A trend began in the early 2000’s of making movies based on dramatic action shows from the 70’s and 80’s, but treating them as a joke. This has had…decidedly mixed results.
21 Jump Street was part of the line-up of a upstart new network called Fox. It was the story of a division of young cops who would go into schools undercover, posing as students, to bust drug dealers and the like. The show’s biggest claim to fame was that it introduced Johnny Depp to the world.
In the film, we meet loser Schmidt (Jonah Hill) who has a humiliating day at school. He is rejected by a girl and pushed around by his bully Jenko (Channing Tatum) . Except, Jenko is having his own trouble…his grades are so bad, he is not going to be allowed to go to prom. A few years later they are both at the police academy. At first, Jenko resumes his role as bully, but they quickly realize both can help each other get through. As Jenko helps Schmidt with the physical tests, Schmidt helps Jenko pass the mental ones.
They are disappointed to discover their first gig is as bike cops in a park. But an ill fated drug bust leads them to Jump Street, an old program that is being revived. They are sent into a high school to determine who is selling a new and dangerous drug.
The story is not entirely fresh, and yet, this is kind of the point. The filmmakers are seeking to have some fun with both cop and action film tropes. This leads to a lot of entertaining visual gags. The drug ring is run by hip and socially conscious kids. When Jenko tries mocking kids for being concerned about the environment, he is informed that this is just so uncool. In fact, the two friends find their social heirchy inverted. On top of that, they confuse who is which undercover character, forcing both into roles outside their comfort zone.
21 Jump Street is not an outright parody of it’s namesake. It is set in the same universe as the show (with original actors reprising roles from the TV Show), but it sees some of the absurdity in the concept. And it plays with the conventions pretty well (including the very problematic area of the “Inappropriate Love Interest”).
What really holds the film together though is Hill and Tatum. They are a genuinely enjoyable combo with a friendship that is a bit endearing. The action scenes are well choreographed. And, important to any action comedy film? The action and jokes do not step on each other, so to speak. 21 Jump Street is a pleasant surprise, with it’s combination of humor and enjoyable characters.