“21 Jump Street” is a comedy based on the late 80’s tv show of the same name. However, name and concept are about the only things the show and the movie have in common. The show was dramatic and starred Johnny Depp before he was inseparable from Tim Burton; the movie is hysterical and stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
It tells the tale of two young cops, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), who both had unsatisfying high-school experiences and didn’t attend their prom night—Schmidt not having the courage to ask a girl out and Jenko not having acceptable grades. Years later, the two meet at the police academy, where they decide to become friends and pool Jenko’s brawn with Schmidt’s brain. They graduate police training only to have the unsatisfying position of patrolling the park on bicycles. After an overzealous arrest botched by the pair’s hilarious inability to read the Miranda rights, the two are re-assigned.
They are to report to Captain Dickson (whose screentime was always a treat thanks to the energetic Ice Cube) at 21 Jump Street. They are then assigned to go undercover as high schoolers to infiltrate and end the distribution of a new synthetic drug going around the campus. However, within their first day back at high school, Jenko and Schmidt accidentally swap identities, leaving Schmidt to get in with the popular kids in drama class and Jenko to deal with the concepts and flirtatious teacher of “app chemistry.” Along with learning the details of the drug circles, the two get caught up in re-living the high school experience in new lights. Jenko begins to feel more intelligent as he bonds with a trio of honor-roll students and Schmidt begins to finally get that feeling of being cool and accepted by the popular crowd. Eventually they learn to deal with their issues and confront the drug supplier at the prom night the two never got to attend.
“21 Jump Street” is one of those movies that is such a steady stream of comedy gold that it becomes difficult to pick out the truly precious moments. What do really stand out are the scenes in which Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are together. While it seems like the pairing of the actors is strange and unprecedented, the two really have great chemistry. There are scenes in which they are able to unite in their immaturity and absurdity while there are scenes that highlight the drastic difference in their characters, allowing them to effectively bounce off of one another.
Admittedly, Jonah Hill once again does his standard schtick, often relying on social awkwardness and clever wordplay to get laughs. Not that it is bad, but it is noticeable that this sort of thing has been done before and done better in movies like “Superbad” and “The Sitter.” It is Tatum who is surprisingly the showstopper of the movie. I used to think all he did in movies was stand around looking like a gorilla, but “21 Jump Street” has given me a bit more respect for him. When the movie went back and forth between Tatum and Hill, I have to say that Tatum’s screen time was far more entertaining. His dull wits, earnest nature and large stature often made him the butt of several jokes, and yet he still somehow managed to come off as the cooler of the two.
I was also pleased with the intelligence of the writing. The film seems to be very self aware, commenting on the trends and tropes of today’s society and entertainment. During their reassignment, Jenko and Schmidt’s job is described as a rehashed idea from the 80’s due to a lack of ideas, a fun little poke at Hollywood’s current fascination with rebooting and sequels, the film itself included. Jenko is perturbed by the new breed of popular kids in high school: those who are enamoured with social awareness, environmentalism and indie music. The pair comment on an apparent lack of explosions during their car chase with a biker gang, and two characters from the original series make quite a memorable cameo towards the end. Then the film ends with a hint at a sequel, garnering both excitement and dread from the characters, much like real-world reaction to news of a sequel.
While there are plenty of clever jokes throughout the film, a majority of the humor is crude, vulgar, or based on shock-value, earning the movie’s R rating. The plot can often be seen as unbelievable or just plain silly at times. However, you should already know that going in. If you are looking for something serious or a little more mature, this is definitely not for you. But if want your jaw to ache a bit from laughing at some lighthearted fun, check out “21 Jump Street.”