21 Jump Street
Explaining the key to high school popularity, ex-jock Channing Tatum offers the following advice to his new partner and reformed nerd Jonah Hill: “Don’t try, at anything. And make fun of people who do try.”
21 Jump Street, a remake of the ’80s procedural crime series of the same name, takes this advice to heart. Written by Hill and Michael Bacall, the film is the spiritual antithesis of its moralizing, PSA-laden namesake—an irreverent and self-aware buddy comedy more interested in satirizing the cop movie than actually being one.
That’s by no means a bad thing. Bacall, who struck a similar chord with the superhero send-up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, deserves credit for the film’s wickedly funny meta-observation gag, one that pops up a few different times: Jeremy Offerman (who appears to be doing the same thing with Ron Swanson, his Parks and Rec character, that Alec Baldwin has with Jack Donaghy), describing the police force’s Jump Street unit to Tatum and Hill by saying, “All they do now is recycle s**t from the past and hope no one notices,” or gym teacher Rob Riggle assessing the 31-year-old, supposedly high school-aged Tatum by telling him, “When did you hit puberty, age seven? You look like you could be in your mid-20s.”
The film’s arch, wink-wink sensibilities don’t end there. 21 Jump Street gets a lot of mileage out of the role reversals Tatum and Hill experience as undercover cops—Hill, portrayed in a standout scene as a Slim Shady wannabe in high school, falls in with the cool kids, while Tatum is relegated to the science-geek set. But this sort of humor can get tiring (even, Tatum quickly finds, for high schoolers), especially when Bacall and Hill quit bothering to play around with stereotypes and just start stating them explicitly. When Ice Cube, cast as the angry black captain of the Jump Street unit, acknowledges that he is the angry black guy stereotype, it’s nowhere near as funny as its writers thought—nor as funny as Diddy’s over-the-top approach to the same archetype in Get Him to the Greek.
21 Jump Street’s saving grace then, is that Channing Tatum, whose career to this point is a collection of totally rote and forgettable action-hero performances, is possessed of some impressive comic instincts, and his idiot-hunk persona plays well alongside Hill’s meek brainiac. Assigned to infiltrate the supply chain of a new synthetic drug being sold in the local high school, the two end up getting peer-pressured by dealer/cool kid Dave Franco (James’ younger brother) into using it themselves. The ensuing scene showing the effects of the drug, which works in stages that are colorfully animated and named (the cocaine-like Stage 4 is called “Fk Yeah, Motherf**r”), Scott Pilgrim-style, is an absolute riot.
The movie isn’t without its flaws: action sequences, bizarrely, are made way too long and taken way too seriously, and there’s a preponderance of lazy d**k jokes. While Tatum and Hill are a pleasant surprise, they’re not as reliably funny as, recently, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell in The Other Guys—Hill isn’t as deliriously off-kilter as Ferrell, and Tatum has less to self-parody than Wahlberg. But between the knowing satire and a handful of truly hilarious moments, 21 Jump Street still has plenty of good stuff going for it.