Regular readers (yes, all three of you) will know I am often somewhat harsh in my opinion of Hollywood's predilection for remakes, reboots and rehashes – especially those of the TV variety. Most of the time, the film versions of classic TV shows are pretty abysmal – witness Bewitched, or My Favourite Martian, The Avengers, The Dukes of Hazzard, Land of The Lost, The Mod Squad, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Flintstones, The Honeymooners, Thunderbirds, Underdog, Sex and the City (1 & 2), The Saint, Inspector Gadget, Popeye, McHale's Navy, The Last Airbender ...
I think that will probably do. You get the picture.
What a genuinely pleasant surprise it is, then, to be able to report that the big-screen version of the 80s teen drama 21 Jump Street is the film that (finally) breaks the mould.
The first thing to note is that the TV series was not really all that good. About all it's remembered for (apart from the naff fashions, cheesy storylines and killer theme song) is that it's the TV show that launched the career of one Johnny Depp ... although it was Wes Craven and his A Nightmare on Elm Street that gave the Deppster his first movie role. The second thing to note is that the 21 Jump Street film does not try to be a remake or reboot of the TV show; nor does it try to be a parody, a la the very funny first two Brady Bunch films. Instead, what 21 Jump Street does is simply take the title and the concept, and then create a very funny spin on the old buddy-cop theme.
So, to the plot. Rookie cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are recruited to the force's undercover youth programme, based at 21 Jump Street. The young-looking officers are used to infiltrate schools, mainly to bust drug gangs. Schmidt and Jenko were actually at high school together, where they weren't exactly buddies – Schmidt was a typical shy geek, while Jenko ran with the popular jock crowd and used to bully him relentlessly. So yeah, the perfect mismatched pair for a buddy-cop setup.
21 Jump Street doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, and the setup and execution are somewhat conventional. But what does surprise is the fact that it is very, very funny. Too often these days, comedies fail to deliver on that on simple, but very important, point – make us laugh. But boy, does 21 Jump Street give its all on that front. I'm not going to spoil the film; no revealing any of the best gags or lines here. Suffice it to say that there are some very clever moments – some clever fourth-wall skewering, a very funny meta-joke involving Hollywood's love of mining the past, and a couple of running gags that pay off beautifully.
The greatest strength that 21 Jump Street has going for it is in its casting. We all know that Hill (looking very trim here) is a great comic actor, but the real surprise is Tatum. Until now he's been known for lame dramas, rom-coms and dance flicks, but hold on to your hats ... he's terrific. His comic timing is perfect, which makes you wonder where he's been hiding his knack for comedy all these years. And though it may be somewhat cliched, Ice Cube dominates every scene he's in as the shouty black police captain.
So a first-rate script, excellent casting and top direction (from the blokes who gave us Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) make 21 Jump Street the first absolute must-see comedy of the year. And it gives us hope that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood may one day get another big-screen TV remake right. Fingers crossed that it will be Gilligan's Island.