21 Jump Street doesn’t feel like a recent comedy. This isn’t just because it’s based on a TV series, but more importantly because it reminds me of the raunchy buddy comedies of years past…a sub-genre that kind of died along with Superbad. Since that “golden era” we’ve been subjected to the likes of Hall Pass and She’s Out of my League along with countless others. I’m pleased to say that 21 Jump Street provided me with more laughs than any movie I’ve seen since Jackass 3D and manages to have more universal appeal. It’s not family friendly, but that’s the point…but everyone over the age of 15 with a slightly twisted sense of humor will come out of the theater beaming.
Jonah Hill is back in the sort of role he shines in as Schmidt, a “not-so-slim-shady” nerd who was picked on in high school by a jock named Jenko (Channing Tatum). Flash forward a few years and Jenko and Schmidt have become fast friends at Police Academy. Jenko is, by all accounts, an idiot, so he feeds off of Schmidt’s test-taking skills. Eventually they graduate the academy and are put on duty patrolling a park on bicycles. After managing to tackle a drug-dealing perp, they botch the arrest by failing to read the perp his rights. The two would-be cops are sent to an experimental program located in a church at 21 Jump Street by none other than Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson himself (Nick Offerman) where they’re under the jurisdiction of Ice Cube as an intentionally stereotypical black police captain. Captain Ice Cube assigns Schmidt and Jenko to go undercover as teenagers to prevent the spread of a new super drug, which has killed a teen at a local high school.
When they arrive for the first day of school, the duo of narcs realize times have changed since they were in school (there’s a funny bit where they’re identifying cliques and aren’t sure what to call hipsters). After an altercation on the first day that lands them in the principal’s office, their fake identities and class schedules are accidentally reversed. For Schmidt, this is the chance to be cool and popular he never had in high school. For Jenko, this is a demeaning struggle with chemistry class. As they go about finding leads on the drugs in their separate ways, Schmidt develops feelings for a girl named Molly (Brie Larson), who he could have never seen himself with back when he was actually in high school.
The film manages to avoid most clichés of action and buddy-comedy cop movies. It acknowledges and teases at them, (such as shooting a gas tank) but it doesn’t fall into them (the gas tank doesn’t explode). The real star of the show here is Channing Tatum, who I didn’t know was much of an actor at all prior to his role in this. Turns out, he’s great in a comedic role here, and manages to outshine his comic-veteran screen partner. There’s something priceless about his genuinely frustrated reactions to situations his character’s not smart enough to handle. The supporting cast is great too ranging from Ellie Kemper and Rob Riggle to Johnny Depp.
It certainly entertains an interesting concept: going back to high school, but knowing what you know now, and being more socially aware. While it devolves into hijinx from time to time, that’s necessary for a movie like this. I’d argue that it got a little too over the top in the final twenty minutes of the film but there’s some moments that are pure gold. The chemistry between the characters is believable and even at times…relatable. One of my favorite moments hands down involves Schmidt and Jenko planning a party. “But how will we get alcohol without an ID?” Channing Tatum asks sadly (since they’re pretending to be high school students). They turn to each other and laugh and the audience laughs with them.
In the interest of preserving some of the films best surprises, I’ll taper myself off here. The trailer methodically walks you through the first fifteen minutes of the film in sequential order, but thankfully spares the viewer the best, and most vulgar moments. It’s rare that you can call a comedy a legitimately good movie, but thankfully 21 Jump Street is a return to true hilarity without the cheapness.