After their first bust goes horribly wrong, two young police officers are recruited into a programme that places youthful looking police officers undercover in high schools. Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are tasked with bringing down a synthetic drug ring, but find themselves drawn into the teenage world, and try to make up for mistakes they made in their past.
Jonah Hill plays the overachieving geek to Channing Tatum’s underachieving jock and both of them fit their roles well. It is encouraging to see that Tatum is capable of comedy, but his main moments of hilarity come as a result of slapstick and screwball comedy. This is fine, but his comic delivery of lines still needs work. Hill, on the other hand, has great comic timing, but he is playing the same role as he always does; the awkward guy who talks when he is not supposed to. Hill stretched himself for his role in Moneyball – and grabbed himself an Oscar nomination for his trouble – so it is a shame to see him revert to something that he knows he is capable of and a role that the audience has seen – in one way or another – many times before.
The film plays with the subversion of roles, leaving Tatum playing the brainy guy and Hill the jock, and the high school itself has changed from the brainless popularity contest that our two leads were familiar with during their time in the education system, to being run by the middle of the road nerds; these are not the science geeks, but they are not the jocks and cheerleaders either. This is a nice way to play with the audience’s expectations, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that underneath the surface, these characters are the same ones that we are familiar with from every high school movie ever. The film also plays with the idea of the car chase, leaving Hill and Tatum running across a freeway dressed as Peter Pan and a science nerd, while the things they expect to explode – from watching too many thrillers? – do not.
21 Jump Street has some great lines; most of them come from Ice Cube’s angry police chief, but Nick Offerman – Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson – also gets his chance to shine. The film is predictable and follows an obvious structure, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The uncomplicated plot line allows the comedy to take the central stage and there are moments of genuine hilarity, but sadly these do not always come from the central duo.
In all, 21 Jump Street feels like a mix between a John Hughes movie and Bad Boys; high school dramedy mixed with cop movie thriller, it is not quite as good as either style but it is one of the best comedies of recent months. This is not to say that 21 Jump Street is fall-off-your-seat hilarious, but the supporting actors bring the funny – including an inspired speech from Offerman about how the ‘police force’ is not trying anything new, but going back to what worked in the past – and the film is certainly enough to cleanse the palate of Jonah Hill’s last offering, The Sitter.