How do you adapt TV shows for the big screen? Let me count the ways…
1) Add cash and technology! 1998’s Lost in Space was a master-class in throwing money at an old sci-fi show and ignoring things like character and story.
2) Constantly wink at fans of the original show. 2010’s The A-Team played out like celebrity karaoke show, with big-time movie stars taking on parts originally played by more obscure actors. It spent almost its entire run-time crow-barring in every A-Team trope it could think of.
3) Create a post-modern parody! This is a double-edged sword: The Brady Bunch movie took the ultimate 70s family and transplanted them to 90s America for a very funny fish-out of water comedy that exaggerated the conventions of the sitcom for comedic effect. Nora Ephron’s Bewitched film, however, took things a step too far: set in a world where the supernatural sitcom ‘Bewitched’ actually existed, Ephron imagined what it would be like if they were to cast a real witch (Nicole Kidman) as the lead in a reboot of the original. It was very ‘clever’ but not very funny.
4) Give it to a famous director and have him/her put their ‘spin’ on it. We’re basically referring to Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows here, a movie that is unforgivably terrible.
21 Jump Street, the new comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum avoids pretty much every pitfall TV adaptations face by taking the broad concept of the show (cops going undercover at a high school) as only the starting point and inventing a whole new story to go with it. Former adversaries turned best friends, Tatum and Hill are rookie cops sent down to an undercover unit after they bungle a simple drug arrest. Under the command of their angry Captain Ice Cube, they have to pose as high school students to infiltrate a narcotics ring. One of the films strongest recurring jokes comes from Tatum being completely confused at how things have changed since he was in high school. Where ignorance and apathy were once cool, their new classmates all seem to be about the environment and caring about stuff. Where Jonah Hill used to be unpopular with the girls, he’s now able to strike up a conversation with his love interest Brie Larson, the pseudo-girlfriend of the school’s über-crunchy drug dealer (Dave ‘Brother-of-James’ Franco). One of the achievements that screenwriter Michael Bacall (who co-wrote the story with Hill) has pulled off is to take these stock characters from so many high school movies and cop shows and giving them all a fresh and unexpected twist. He also seems to enjoy calling out the inherent flaws of the movie’s premise: everybody at school keeps commenting on how Tatum looks nothing like a teenager.
The new reduced-size Jonah Hill that appears in this movie is as funny as ever (assuming you find Jonah Hill funny). He has pretty much the same voice in every film he appears, but he always finds subtle difference in each role he takes. For a guy whose reputation lies in playing filthy, bawdy fat guys, he’s capable of showing his characters’ vulnerable sides and in 21 Jump Street, he’s great at conveying the insecurity and false confidence of a teenager. The break out performance of this film, unexpectedly, is Channing Tatum. Seen by many people as ‘that meathead who appears in action bombs and sappy romances’, Tatum more than holds his own against Hill. As adept with slap-stick as he is with the back-and-forth dialogue, he’s quickly proving himself to be a world-class comedic straight-man. On the back of this great turn and his starring role in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming Magic Mike, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Channing’s Tatums in the future.
At 100 minutes, 21 Jump Street is one of the most tightly-written comedies of recent years. The gags all land, the action scenes come at the right time and the little character moments that they set up at the beginning all pay off in the end. There are also a few great surprises thrown in for good measure. If you haven’t heard about these ‘twists’ from the other reviews or your loose-lipped friends, I recommend you set aside some time tonight and enjoy this thoroughly funny film.