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10 Reasons Why '21 Jump Street' Exceeded Expectations

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 19, 2012 at 12:57PM

On paper, "21 Jump Street" was not an enticing proposition. A reboot of a 1980s TV series with a ludicrous premise -- fresh-faced cops go undercover as high school students. Produced by Neal Moritz, a man whose last attempt at an action-comedy reboot of a famous property was the dreadful "The Green Hornet." Directed by two first-time live-action feature directors. Written by the man behind "Project X." And starring Jonah Hill, coming off a terrible R-rated comedy flop, in "The Sitter," and Channing Tatum, a man whose previous turns weren't so much performed as whittled out of wood. 
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8) Channing Tatum
That central relationship is the absolute heart of the film, and while Hill deserves all kinds of credit (there's some really terrific acting from the Oscar nominee as he finally gets the popularity he never had in high school), it's Channing Tatum who's the real MVP of the film. And believe us, we'd never have thought we'd be writing that sentence a year ago. The actor has been picked out by serious talents like Michael Mann, Kimberley Peirce, Kevin Macdonald and Steven Soderbergh, but he gets by far his best showcase to date here. He's entirely endearing in a part that both plays to his lunk-headed dreamboat persona and turns it upside down; there's no vanity to his performance, no desire to look cool, although he's capable of doing that when the action kicks in. He's also extremely and disarmingly funny in the film, showing a surprising capacity for comedy, and not in a "Vin Diesel looking after kids!" way, but with deceptively graceful timing, or just by launching ass akimbo into things. By pulling this off, he's won over an enormous number of the doubters, ourselves included.

Phil Lord Chris Miller 21 Jump Street Set Photo
9) The Cast Is Stuffed With Comic Ringers
While it's undoubtedly Tatum and Hill's film, the breadth of the ensemble is hugely impressive; so much so that arguably the biggest problem is that some just don't get enough to do. Aside from Brie Larson and Dave Franco, who we've mentioned above, you get Ice Cube's hilarious permanently-on-the-brink-of-bursting-a-blood-vessel turn, every tough no-nonsense police captain you've ever seen combined and multiplied. You've got Chris Parnell doing his Dr. Spaceman thing, Jake Johnson's amusingly harried school principal, Ellie Kemper's science teacher wrestling with her lust for Jenko, Nick Offerman deadpanning his way through one of the funniest scenes of the movie, Johnny Simmons pulling off another one-scene wonder and Dakota Johnson, Rye Rye and Valerie Tian being badass as the rival undercovers (we would not be adverse to a spin-off). We know that there's an awful lot of material on the cutting room floor -- one of the reasons it sometimes feels like certain actors get shorter shrift than you'd like. But no film has suffered from having too many funny people in it, if they're used right, and here they are all spot on.

10) They Got The Right Guys
We've given Neal H. Moritz a lot of shit over the years, principally because he's given us a lot of shit over the years: recent output includes "Made of Honour," "The Bounty Hunter," "The Green Hornet" and "Battle: Los Angeles." But  credit where credit is due, he absolutely hired the right people here, and seemingly saw that they got to do what they want to do. We've spoken about writer Michael Bacall's work at length already (and we do find it bizarre that he could come up with such a lean, likable, funny script and something as repellent as "Project X" at the same time), but directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller deserve the lion's share of the credit. Anyone who saw their feature debut, the animated flick "Cloudy With Chance Of Meatballs," knew they were ones to watch, but now they're two-for-two, and there are few talents in the comedy world that we're more excited about. There's a hugely impressive economy of storytelling throughout the film (editor Joey Negron, of "Transformers" 2 & 3, deserves a shout-out too), they shoot the action neatly and excitingly, they're inventive when needed, and more importantly, they've got killer timing. Their next project is, of all things, a "Lego" movie, but given that they're turned a kids' picture book and an 80s TV show into minor comedy classics, they get the benefit of the doubt.

--Oli Lyttelton, Kevin Jagernauth

This article is related to: 21 Jump Street, Features, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Michael Bacall, Brie Larson, Dave Franco


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