Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are two fresh out of the academy police officers who, after a failed arrest, are reassigned to a specialist department. From here they find themselves going undercover at high school to bust up a suspected drug ring. Whilst the opportunity to serve and protect the future of America would be enough for some officers, they see it a little differently. Hill was a put upon science geek at high school and grabs this assignment as an opportunity to cancel out his past. Tatum was a potential prom king and wants to prove he can still break skulls and earn respect like he used to.
There is a very obvious comparison in Hill’s latest with 2007’s Hot Fuzz. Both know the action genre and the tropes that go with it. However, they signpost them in different ways. Whilst Pegg’s vehicle was all about sly little winks to the camera and whispering ‘You know where we got this from right?’, 21 Jump Street is so aware of its TV origins, it wears them on its sleeve. From claim that the Jump Street department is a just revamping an old 80s police programme because ‘all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice‘ through Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) openly declaring that he knows he’s a stereotype to Channing Tatum sharing his opinion on Glee openly mocking him in their second season (‘FUCK YOU GLEE!’), Jump Street is saying to the audience ‘look, we know there’s been a bunch of remakes and reboots recently, but stick with us. We’re different’.
Whilst the metahumour is refreshing, it does give with one hand and take away with the other. A recurring gag about explosions being the staple of all good chase scenes is so laboured Tatum and Hill literally tell you why the joke is supposed to be funny. There’s also the slight issue that like other films with that Apatow-esque twang, it often replaces swearing for humour. However, it’s easy to overlook these minor quibbles when you’re too busy having fun.
Hill continues the almost-straight man routine he perfected in Get Him to the Greek, flitting between panic and disillusionment in a manner similar to Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot; constantly fighting the battle between who he is and what he’s pretending to be. Acting like Lennie Small, Tatum practically manages to steal the show with his doe-eyed expletive rants. He’s an angry man-child, frustrated with his own lack of intelligence and the fact that high school is no longer the fortress of solitude it used to be. Whilst gets Hill gets the love interest, Tatum gets lines that reference Spiderman, Avatar and Back to the Future all in one bite. Seems a fair deal. Together, they are joy to watch.
21 Jump Street is an absurdly brilliant comedy which doesn’t have to resort to too much in the way of gross-out humour that other comedies have of late. Whilst it can be indulgent in places, if we’re still not quite finished with rehashing other people’s portfolios, than this is the film that the others should be looking to, to see how it’s done properly.