21 Jump Street review
21 Jump Street is a movie that was both exactly what I thought it was going to be and totally surprising. On the one hand it’s a by the numbers (no pun intended) buddy cop comedy where it turns out that the real problem they have to solve is within themselves, and on the other, it’s an almost unrecognizable remake of a franchise that’s almost 25 years old, that against my better judgement, I actually really enjoyed. The key to this I think was a very safe yet funny script, good earnest performances from Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and the exact right amount of winking self-referentiality.
First off, to say that this movie is formulaic is an understatement. We get a scene at the top that’s about 2 minutes long where we find out that Hill’s Schmidt was a nerd and that Tatum’s Jenko was a jock when they both never got to go to prom at the same high school. They later meet up and become besties at the police academy, and after we see just how crappy they are at being regular old cops, they’re recruited into the “Jump Street” program where they’re meant to infiltrate a high school undercover as students to stop the spread of a new drug. As their past high school archetypes are turned on their heads, and Schmidt falls in with the popular kids and Jenko becomes a nerd, they both have to discover that their friendship transcends the pettiness of high school and the drug ring basically falls into their laps.
This sounds like a snoozefest, but the simplistic plot really makes it easy to inject humor and goofy action sequences into the story without mucking things up, and give both Hill, a veteran of the high school comedy, and Tatum, who is actually pretty darn great in this, a chance to really shine. A lot of scenes feel at least a little bit improvised and since I didn’t really have to bother with keeping track of the plot, I could really sit back and enjoy all the great banter they have with each other, and it was much easier and enjoyable for me to watch things that might seem ridiculous in other movies, like a five-minute-long drug trip sequence, or the numerous non sequitur asides that have nothing to do with the plot. Still this does result in the movie feeling a little stale or redundant at points because of how little we really need spelled out for us, but on the whole, it was just fun and positive.
The ace up this movie’s sleeve, however, that upgrades it from something I could easily tolerate to something I would easily recommend is the constant references to both the implausibility of the movie’s premise and that of the 1980’s cop drama TV show it’s based on. Nick Offerman from NBC’s Parks and Recreation cameos as a Police Chief and kicks off a great series of bits that are basically just thinly veiled jabs at the stupidity of making a goofy action comedy out of a decades old TV procedural, and the outrageous speed at which the other members of “Jump Street” take down various criminals and crime rings throughout the movie is a silly wink to the fact that on the old show, they stopped a crime in one hour literally every week. Also, near the end of the movie, there’s a bit that’s so surprising and satisfying that I couldn’t even believe that they were able to do it, but I won’t spoil that one here.
Finally, the supporting cast of this movie is fantastic, with great comedians like Chris Parnell, Rob Riggle, and Ellie Kemper as teachers, and a great ensemble of students as well, with James’ little brother Dave Franco and the beautiful Brie Larson as standouts. Ice Cube also does a hilarious turn as an admittedly stereotypical angry black captain, who curses better than almost any movie character that I’ve ever seen. A lot of the stereotypical high school situations and lingo can sometimes come off as a little forced, but everyone does a good job of selling it, and the films self-referentially goes a long way towards dispelling any negative effects it might cause.
In summation, just go see 21 Jump Street, my dudes. It’s fun, and even if it’s not the greatest movie there ever was, I can almost guarantee you’ll come out of that theater feeling good. It achieves what it set it out to so very well.