Starring: Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum
Directed by: Phil Lord & Chris Miller (the guys behind the fantastic, if short lived Clone High cartoon series)
21 Jump Street is a comedy based on a much forgotten television show from the 80s that has very little to do with the original show except for the premise: two young looking cops go undercover in a high school in an attempt to bust up a drug ring. It stars Jonah Hill doing his Jonah Hill thing and Channing Tatum, showing off his comedic chops for a change of pace from his normal career of the “macho action guy.” It’s a buddy cop movie and a high school comedy simultaneously, while also playing with the conventions of both genres. The film will regularly set up a situation we’ve seen a million times in these genres and then it will immediately take the piss out of the tropes by doing the opposite thing of what is expected. One time some one told me that was the definition of irony, so we’ll call it that. For example, instead of the cool kids being the strong, athletic, and beautiful ones, the cool kids in this film are the hipsters, the environmentally and politically conscious, and the educated. This change up is a source of conflict for our undercover cop duo who went to high school when things were more like Can’t Hardly Wait and are forced to adapt.
Even despite these ironic twists on conventions, the film is predictable and it hits all of the normal beats of a film in either of these genres. One cop is good at some stuff, one is good at other stuff, and they compliment each other when they’re not getting in eachother’s way. Then you have the obligatory mid-film perceived betrayal that results in the guy getting the girl, and of course the requisite shoot out scene near the end. It’s formulaic, yes, but it wouldn’t be a formula if it didn’t work. Also, this film pretty much serves as the send off for Jonah Hill to stop acting in high school / college roles because this dude has been an adult for a while now despite looking young his whole career.
Other characters of note besides our two leads include “the angry black chief of police” (played by Ice Cube, who’s performance is a breath of fresh air compared to his Are We There Yet drivel that he keeps pumping out) and “the young teacher who wants to bang Tatum” (The Office‘s Ellie Kemper, who is hilarious as always). The real stand out for me though was “the cool kid that everyone looks up to” (played by James Franco’s Younger Brother). That kid is going places.
I was surprised when I realized the directors of 21 Jump Street were also the creators/directors/driving forces behind one of my favorite under appreciated shows, Clone High, but after mentally comparing the two, it really became obvious. Clone High was an off beat comedy about teenagers in high school that regularly played with conventions in ironic ways, just as Jump Street does. This film is a little more tame than Clone High in its absurdity, but it still accomplishes the goal of any decent comedy, which is of course to be funny. I’m not sure if Phil Lord and Chris Miller are maturing in their humor style or if they’re catering to studio pressures to make a “normal” film, but they did an alright job this time around.
Score: 7/10 (While it was funny and well acted, I thought it ran a little long and kinda had some meandering moments that were trying too hard to be funny and failing.)