By Austen Brooks
Nothing about 21 Jump Street is new: it’s a gross-out buddy comedy based on a television series about two cops who go undercover at a high school where they get the chance to relive and redeem their teens.
But, somehow, 21 is fresh – probably because it knows exactly what it is and it doesn’t let itself off the hook. The film’s funniest moments are when it takes aim at itself: a jab for the lack of originality of remakes and a one-two combo aimed at the nearly-cookie cutter protagonists Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), who embrace their archetypes so wholeheartedly that the audience can’t help but do so as well. The action sequences are slick, but they don’t escape satire either – things don’t explode when they should, which isn’t enough to offset Schmidt and Jenko’s giddiness over participating in a high speed chase. Even the notion of going back for redemption is lampooned – admittedly uncomfortably – when Schmidt comes this close to striking up a relationship with a student, and a young chemistry teacher (the ever-enthusiastic Ellie Kemper) blatantly hits on Jenko, whom she has no reason to believe is of legal age.
21 Jump Street follows Schmidt and Jenko from their lackluster high school years through graduation from the police academy, where they realize they need each other’s skills to succeed. After a botched first arrest, the guys are reassigned to the intimidating (as in, he will intimidate you into laughing at his jokes) Ice Cube’s unit of undercover cops with the task of weeding out drug dealers from, alack! the very same high school they themselves attended. This, of course, gives them the chance to go back and fix what they fell short of in their teens.
The strong supporting cast successfully fleshes out a world in which high school students can relate to men in their late twenties but also believably be fooled by them. Girl next-door Brie Larson is understated, assured and smart, which she must be to contend with her romantic interest Hill’s rapid-fire wit. Dave Franco tows the line between intellectual sophisticate and major stoner – will he ever be able to distinguish himself from his older brother ? – and you’ll wish you saw more of New Girl’s Jake Johnson, the school’s principal (which, even in this age-dysmorphic world, does seem a little far-fetched) and Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman.
But the glue that holds this film together is the honesty of the relationship between Jenko and Schmidt. Yes, we are beaten over the head by the idea that both need the other to perform to his full potential, thus making them ideal partners. This is easy to forgive, however, because of the moments when nothing is said because nothing needs to be said; we feel the highs and lows of the friendship without being spoon-fed. It’s a pleasure to witness Tatum and Hill’s palpable chemistry because, although the relationship is not particularly deep or thought provoking, these guys care about each other and therefore we care about them. Which is more than a lot of romantic comedies can say.
Contact the Author: AustenBrooks@ArtsandEntertainmentPlayground.com