In the year of our lord two-thousand-and-twelve, did anyone expect there to be a “21 Jump Street” movie? Were people clamoring for a “21 Jump Street” movie? Has some obscure cable network been playing re-runs of the 80s teen cop drama, stirring up a rabid underground network of fans chanting “Jump Street”, “Jump Street”, “Jump Street”? And what’s more, possibly the biggest of these questions, did anyone actually expect “21 Jump Street” to be really good? Because it is. I’m as surprised as anyone. I anticipated a complete and utter disaster, but it’s serious laughs from beginning to end.
“21 Jump Street” walks a delicate line of being self-aware and self-deprecating without being obnoxious. It knows exactly what it is, an unnecessary rehash, and pokes fun at itself every perfectly paced step of the way. But you don’t watch it thinking it’s another one of those movies painfully reflexive movies. It’s like the filmmakers can’t believe they made a “21 Jump Street” movie either, and they’re totally going to mock themselves for it. This is the best popcorn movie of the year so far. And for a big, dumb movie, “21 Jump Street” is not only hysterical, it’s much more clever than you initially suspect.
“Jump Street” takes the conventions and tropes of teen films and cop movies and turns them on their ear. There’s nothing earth shattering or astonishing, but the film take things you’ve seen 1000 times and tweaks them in small ways so you don’t feel like you’re watching something you’ve seen 1000 times, even though you are. There are high-speed car chases, epic high-school parties, an undercover cop in too deep, and a gearing up for the final battle scene. Hell, there’s even a slow motion shot of doves flying away as the good guys walk with grim determination. That’s been done to death, and mocked to death, but “21 Jump Street” approaches it in a way that makes it fresh and funny and that works.
The story isn’t much to anyone familiar with the show: two rookie cops, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill—if I were him I would require people to refer to me as that every time I was about to drop a fart joke), blow their first bust. Because they look like twelve-year-olds they get bounced to a covert unit that places undercover officers in high schools, located at the eponymous 21 Jump Street. As the chief (Nick Offerman) says, they can’t come up with anything original, and this is some “recycled shit from the past.” Back in the day Jenko was super popular while Schmidt was a chubby, Eminem-looking outcast. However, things have changed since they roamed the hallways. Now the cool kids care, they study, they love the environment and comic books, and the two best buds find their former roles reversed in this brave new world.
Hill’s stumbly awkward humor is personable and falls in a middle ground between his roles in “Moneyball” and “Superbad”. However, it’s Tatum that is the real surprise in “21 Jump Street”. I’ve always had a mysterious soft spot for him, but I’ve never known why until now. He totally plays off and against his one-note, meat head/bro persona with incredible results, and is stone hilarious. Tatum should really stick to comedy and avoid anything serious. He was terrible in “Son of No One” and “The Eagle”, but he was the one good part of “The Dilemma” when he played for laughs. Hill and Tatum have a great chemistry and timing; they simply work well together. You feel like you’re watching two good friends, and they have a handful of legitimately sweet moments together where the bond is obvious. Their connection helps the film transcend being just another silly, foul-mouthed comedy, even a clever one, and gives it a bit of heart.
Tatum and Hill make Jenko and Schmidt real, which anchors the movie and allows the supporting cast to fly around and get ridiculous when the need arises. Ice Cube plays the head of Jump Street in a way that both lampoons the “angry black captain” stereotype, and reminds you when Ice Cube was one of the scariest dudes on the planet (NWA era Cube was a bad, bad man). Brie Larson steals Schmidt’s heart, and a lot of scenes, as the adorable, sarcastic Molly, and Dave Franco kills it as Eric, the guitar-strumming kingpin who hocks a new designer drug called Holy Fucking Shit. Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper, and Chris Parnell all pop up as teachers—each contributing to the running, you-don’t-look-like-high-school-kids gag.
As surprising as you might find this, “21 Jump Street” is a raucous, shockingly witty, great time at the movies. The funniest thing I’ve seen so far this year, you’ll want to get to the theater to see this. There are lots of reasons to watch “21 Jump Street”, but high on that list is that you can finally say, “well I’ll be damned, Channing Tatum really does deserve a career in movies.”
Phil Lord (director)/Chris Miller (director)/Michael Bacall (writer)
CAST: Jonah Hill…Schmidt
Rob Riggle…Mr. Walters
Ice Cube…Captain Dickson