21 Jump Street begins with the basic concept of a buddy cop film, but cleverly integrates several additional comedic elements to create an entertaining admixture of humorous ideas. The notion of adults forced to repeat high school is compounded by both role reversal and status change. Though the surrounding jokes aren’t always as creative as the situations, the sheer quantity of gags and eccentric characters keeps the hit-or-miss ratio less noticeable. There’s also a deluge of action, some noteworthy cameos, and the always-reliable vulgar comedy to contrast with the more intelligent, self-aware mockery.
Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was the unpopular loner in high school, tormented by the popular jocks led by Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum). Now, seven years later, both men are police officers; and an unlikely friendship forms between them, as each needs the other’s help to succeed. When the partners are assigned an undercover mission at Sagan High School to infiltrate a dangerous drug ring, Morton inadvertently becomes the popular kid while Greg is left to befriend the nerds. As the duo gets tangled up in school plays, AP chemistry, amorous teachers and a spirited drama student (Brie Larson), their friendship is tested as time quickly runs out to stop the spread of a deadly synthetic drug.
There’s something extra satisfying about a movie that proves itself better than the very low expectations created by goofy theatrical trailers. The fact that stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill also serve as executive producers (with a story by Hill) could be factored into the lowered interest in the project, or even that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller previously helmed the computer animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs together. But when the screenplay purposely acknowledges the fact that Hollywood seems preoccupied with rejuvenating or remaking every other movie or TV show released in the ’80s, compiling countless clichés to pack into predictable plots, and cramming tired standardized racial conceptions into edgy jokes, all while hoping immature audiences won’t take notice, it’s worth investigating. “Embrace your stereotypes,” urges the boilerplate Captain Dickson (played by the scene-stealing Ice Cube). 21 Jump Street does just that.
A physically unfit, shy, apprehensive, insecure nerd teams up with the overconfident, athletic, handsome blockhead that he clashed with in high school – to fight crime as police officers. It’s the typical odd-couple, opposites-attract, buddy-cop setup that, because of its willingness to acquiesce to the apparentness of recycling concepts, transcends tiresome. Backpedaling roles, revisiting the horrors of adolescence, casting two actors that fit characters they’re presumed to be in real life, and tossing in homages to the source material all adds a level of unexpected complexity and humor that results in sufficient entertainment. Although it’s unrealistic, irresponsible, incredibly crude and loses a bit of steam during the finale (as it substitutes action and violence for steady mischief), 21 Jump Street manages to concoct an environment, mood, and personas that are admittedly quite fun.