I’m used to seeing movies where the characters flash back to their embarrassing days in high school in the ‘80s and ’90s. Now in “21 Jump Street” even seven years earlier in 2005, when I was in high school, can seem like an eternity ago. Time moves fast, and jokes have to move even faster.
Thus, “21 Jump Street” is a sharp, silly and self-aware movie that barrel rolls head-on into its ridiculous concept as willfully as Channing Tatum dives head first into a gong while tripping out on drugs.
The film pairs Jonah Hill and Tatum as Schmidt and Jenko, two hapless cops who together are physically and mentally inept at their jobs. Their punishment is a reassignment to an undercover operation in high school to locate the supplier of a new synthetic drug.
The two were in different worlds in high school, but now they’re best buds, and the movie never messes too much with their bromance. They remain likeable even as they bro out and act too big for their egos, and “21 Jump Street” has a way of being raunchy and endearing simultaneously. It’s wild and absurd without being cynical in a way perhaps no blockbuster comedy has done since “Superbad.”
The finest example of this is in a wild house party thrown by Schmidt and Jenko to get in with the high school crowd. It’s uninhibited because they’re obviously old enough to buy booze and can swipe drugs from an evidence locker, and when Schmidt finds himself stabbed in the back, it escalates to a party montage as wacky as “Project X” and yet not as sour and mean-spirited. Ironically enough, screenwriter Michael Bacall penned both scripts.
Hill and Tatum both take their roles in confident stride. They sprint through colorful, wacky and irreverent sex and drug humor without shame or reservation. The movie makes Jonah Hill out to be the timid type, but he’s much more funny and more at home when he’s singing show tunes and leaping in the air in green tights than he is shaking hands with the cute girl who wants to make out. Tatum too isn’t trying to be funny but is comfortable in his own shoes as a tough, cool guy who will think everything, including covalent bonds, are plain awesome.
And because of how naturally they go about their comedic set pieces, they likewise have no reservations about the plot. The script is just the right dash of self-aware, with Nick Offerman as a police captain getting about the best line of the movie when he sends the pair of them to “37 Jump Street” rather than tow the line of the dated ‘80s cop show’s limited franchise appeal. It also has as funny, surprising, welcome and wacky of a cameo since Bill Murray in “Zombieland.”
“21 Jump Street” is a pleasant surprise with a great cast and a good-heart. It’s got a lot of dick jokes too, but (excuse the pun) they’re not too hard to swallow.