21 Jump Street (2012)

21 Jump Street (2012) – I think there’s no better introduction for this movie than some dialogue that Nick Offerman (playing a police captain) has in his only scene in this movie. While talking about the undercover operation that forms the central premise of the movie he describes it as a program from the 80s. The guys who think of things, well, they’re all out of ideas and are just recycling old ones now. Pretty meta, huh? 21 Jump Street was an ostensibly serious TV show that ran from 1987 to 1991 about undercover cops in high school. The “ostensibly serious” part has been dropped from this movie. It is out-and-out comedy. Written by Michael Bacall from a story by him and Academy Award-nominated star Jonah Hill, the script totally realizes how absurd the idea of cops undercover in high school. I’m reminded of a sketch on The Drew Carey Show once where a cop goes undercover at a high school wearing a backwards baseball cap, only for the camera to pull out and reveal he’s still wearing his uniform and badge. Even if it gave Johnny Depp some early exposure (after A Nightmare on Elm Street and Platoon) and gave Richard Grieco… well, pretty much all of the exposure he ever got, it was still a pretty damn silly premise.

Morton Schmitt (Hill) was a dork in high school (in what is indicated to be around 2000). He has bleached Eminem-style hair and a mouthful of metal. Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) was a popular jock but something of a slacker who barely graduated. Years later they meet again in the police academy. Scmitt’s good at the brainy stuff and Jenko’s good at the physical stuff so they help each other and become best friends. When they get transferred to Jump Street under the command of the stern Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), they get assigned to track down the suppliers and distributers of a new designer drug that caused some kid (Johnny Simmons) to go crazy on YouTube and then die. In the past decade or so, teenagers have changed and the crass Jenko doesn’t fit in with the popular kids (Dave Franco, Brie Larson). Schmitt does. (However, Jenko does prove popular with a particular teacher, played by Ellie Kemper.) Adding in a mix-up about who takes which cover identity, their roles from high school are reversed. Comedy ensues.

Powerful moving art or deep philosophical resonance are nowhere to be found in 21 Jump Street, but there are a fuckton of laughs (it has recently come to my attention that I may say “fuckton” too much…) and that is all I ask from a comedy. Hill and Franco have been pretty damn funny in prior projects so no big surprises there. Channing Tatum caught me off guard though. Every so often there’s a new crop of pretty boy actors that the teenage girls go crazy for and the temptation is always to write them off as being untalented. Then again that’s how Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Heath Ledger, and 21 Jump Street’s own Johnny Depp started. Now this movie doesn’t go so far as to suggest that Tatum will have as successful a career as any of those actors, but the guy’s got some comic chops. Apparently, he’s more than just abs after all. The supporting cast is stocked with reliable comic actors like Parks and Recreation’s Offerman, Jake Johnson from New Girl, Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live and Archer, and Rob Riggle from Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. Will I still remember 21 Jump Street in a couple year? Or even a couple months? I don’t know. Maybe not, but I spent an hour and a half in a movie theater laughing my ass off and that’s enough.

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