To say that I am surprised, dear readers, by my full-on, unabashed enthusiasm for 21 Jump Streetwould be the understatement of the year. When the project was announced, I thought it sounded terrible and the first time I saw the trailer, I thought the same thing. That trailer, though, grew on me with each and every viewing and by the time I got to the theater this weekend, I was primed for a darn good time, and that’s exactly what the movie delivers.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are unlikely pals. In high school, Schmidt was a loser whom Jenko routinely humiliated. But when they both join the police force, they develop a mutually beneficial friendship and eventually become partners on the beat. After a poorly executed drug bust, they are transferred under the command of Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), who runs an undercover unit out of a church on 21 Jump Street. The pair is sent in to a local high school and tasked with infiltrating and bringing down a drug ring that threatens to spread its new product to the surrounding city. But with their roles reversed and the abilities put to the test, can these two misfits get the job done before the entire operation is shut down?
One of the things that gave me pause concerning 21 Jump Street is the headliners. I appreciate Hill’s talent both as a comedian and an actual actor (as displayed in Moneyball) but his isn’t a name that gets me excited. For every Get Him to the Greek (which I love), there’s a film like The Sitter (which appeared to be horrendous). I have no such conflict over Tatum’s involvement with this project. Aside from his acceptable work in She’s the Man (a film I have an odd affection for), I’ve never seen a movie involving Tatum that I did not leave with a little vomit in my mouth and a little hate in my heart. I’ve long thought that he might be the worst actor in Hollywood. Surprisingly, not only do Hill and Tatum turn out to be a perfect match for this sort of raucous action-comedy, Tatum is actually the best part. He plays the dumb jock well, a role he is well suited for, but he also displays an excellent comedic timing I wouldn’t have thought he had. I’m not saying this will completely change my opinion of the man but it certainly won’t hurt. Hill, meanwhile, brings an element of authenticity to his role; he’s a nerd at heart who jumps on the chance to finally become cool. It’s an antiquated trick that Jump Street pulls but Hill makes it work. Together these two show great chemistry and they work off of each other quite well, giving the feeling of a natural partnership that doesn’t always come off with this sort of mismatched pairing.
The first act of 21 Jump Street is one of the funniest openers in recent memory. It is an absolute laugh riot, jam-packed with the juvenile-but-well-thought-out humor that is expected from an R-rated comedy in a post-Hangover world. No time is wasted on the set-up as the set of circumstances Schmidt and Jenko find themselves in are established within the first ten minutes and the film’s plot is set into motion. I felt the second act, which brings into play the inevitable conflicts between the two buddies, wanes a bit and becomes slightly bogged down, though the fun never stops entirely. Perhaps the worst I could say about this middle portion is that it stretches on a few minutes too long. But before long, the pace again quickens and Schmidt and Jenko get back to the shenanigans that make the first act such a blast.
What directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) have crafted with Jump Street is an homage to the buddy cop movie with a hint of delicious self-awareness that seems appropriate given its ‘80s roots. They also surround their leads with an outstanding surrounding cast, including the aforementioned Ice Cube (perfect casting), a slightly underused Dave Franco, and the always funny Rob Riggle. Most importantly, the actors are provided with a hilarious script filled with a non-stop stream of jokes that never allows the audience to catch on to the abject stupidity of the characters’ actions.