Low expectations and trailer avoidance are two major factors in acquiring the most out of 21 Jump Street. Let’s clarify that. Avoiding the 21 Jump Street trailer will improve your enjoyment of 21 Jump Street, as despite there being more jokes in the film than the promo, the best jokes are still given away for free below. However, being forced to endure a preceding trailer for the new Adam Sandler film, That’s My Boy, will send your senses into giddy overload at the prospect of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum donning backpacks and running around school. Now that’s clever marketing.
Two inept buddy cops, the cool and handsome Jenko and the nerdy, intelligent Schmidt, are sent undercover at the local high school to “infiltrate the dealers and find the supply” of a new killer drug, labelled HFS aka Holy Fucking Shit (not ROFLcoptr). There the surreptitious students mix up their personae, with Jenko hanging out with the geeks and Schmidt finding himself amongst the popular for the first time.
The film can be read as a kind of reaction to the influx of 80’s-inspired garbage offered in recent years (The A-Team, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Karate Kid), and it even goes so far as to have a character intone that the very idea of the ‘Jump Street project’ is due to lack of creativity and the ease of recycling old ideas. The scene in question only misses a wink and a gurn at the camera to complete its meta delivery.
Whether or not you watched, or even know of, the original 80s TV show that launched Johnny Depp quickly becomes irrelevant. Nostalgia is instead replaced by a whole heap of stupid, silly, absurd, offensive, slapstick, (occasionally) dark, often very funny comedy.
Tatum and Hill are inspired choices, and not just because they’ve already made their names in high school fare (Step Up and Superbad respectively). On the back of his surprise Oscar nomination for Moneyball, you’d think it’d be Hill most likely to amass any plaudits for this unlikely little success but in truth it’s Channing that deserves the majority of the kudos.
He does this by playing terrifically against type and pulling off that monumentally difficult task of being both ridiculously handsome and humorously ridiculous, surprising us all in the process. The scene in which he joins the nerd side, light sabring away with the uncool kids is an absolute delight. The makers of Project X should be forced at gunpoint to see how you make teens engaging and likeable without reducing them to boob-obsessed sex pests.
The strangely anarchic sensibility makes a bit more sense once you discover the directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were behind the equally baffling but brilliant animation Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Sharing that film’s sensibility for the insane the duo pull off a standout trip sequence that successfully combines Fear and Loathing crazy with Harold and Kumar oddball. Unoriginal it ain’t.
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21 Jump Street can also boast the best use of Ice Cube in a decade or two, even if one too many “motherfuckers” sees the scriptwriters looking for affirmation of their adult intent. His presence on the soundtrack as well only fuels further painful memories of the Are We There Yet? family flicks. Sometimes it is best to just forget the past after all.
There isn’t much in the way of competition yet – except for those wondrous Muppets – but 21 Jump Street has a pretty good shot at making the best comedies of the year list. With little in the way of a compelling story the jokes make up for the lack of plot with a hit rate of roughly 70%. More than enough to achieve a passing grade.