Last week, I caught the new David Ayer movie End of Watch, an impressive first-person cop movie, with a gooey buddy-cop heart. 21 Jump Street is similarly derivative (it’s premise is based on a forgotten eighties TV series), but it knowingly accepts the standardised rehashing culture of Hollywood; subverting the cliches and conventions of it’s heritage and make them work for a contemporary audience.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as Jenko and Schmidt. Meeting back in high school, they were polar opposites: Jenko was the hot, dumb jock, and Schmidt the shlubby dork, with Slim Shady hair and an inability to keep his cool. Seven years on, the pair enrol into police academy and soon realise that they are the perfect combo of brawn and brain. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship, but a flawed park patrol team.
After a failed drug heist, they are sent to work undercover with the self-proclaimed “stereotypical angry black police captain” Dickson (Ice Cube), who runs the down-town Jump Street program. The no-nonsense law enforcer sends the hapless pair undercover at a local high school to bust a drug circle selling a dangerous new chemical high.
The ridiculous scenario would make for mundane screwball comedy material (think Never Been Kissed, or Miss Congeniality), but writers Hill and Michael Bacall – the second of which penned the excellent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – elevate the scenario with a comment on the fickle American teen culture of today – where the cool kids are tolerant eco-warriors, and geeks’ chatter of covalent bonds is admired.
Hill and Tatum make for an amiable team.There’s no straight man, and the pairs constant to-and-fro bromance rekindles some of the magic between Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in the British comedies Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. The support is great too, most notably 30 Rock’s Dr. Spacemen/SNL ensemble man Michael Bacall as the high school’s irreverent drama teacher. During a reflexive overload, there’s an incredibly plotted cameo from one mega-Hollywood star once affiliated with the original series, with a TV in the background playing one of the show’s classic episodes.
As is expected, 21 Jump Street has it’s fair share of crass dick-jokes, gross out moments, and implausible car chases. Just like their brilliant animation adventure Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller rifle through the jokes at such a breakneck speed that they are able to shift between the tones of sincerity and self-deprecation effortlessly.
I’ll admit it, I snubbed 21 Jump Street when it was released earlier this year. Who needs another cliche buddy-cop comedy? Who wants more of Jonah Hill’s chubby funster schtick? Aside from teenage girls, who wants Channing Tatum, period? To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. 21 Jump Street has no right being as downright hilarious as it is, but the universally strong comedic performances, frantic pacing and a taut script make this the best popcorn comedy of the year.