What surprised me most about 21 Jump Street was not that it was funny, it was that the story at the heart of the comedy was genuinely sweet and believable. Co-written by star Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall (who also had a hand in Project X and, more impressively, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), 21 Jump Street re-imagines the serious, after-school special tone of the 1980’s show (which is best remembered for giving Johnny Depp his start) as a buddy cop/high school comedy hybrid. Driven by the chemistry between Hill and Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street works on both levels. I do have one bone to pick, though, with the foundations of the story. The opening scene is titled “2005”, and it shows Hill with bleached blonde hair, dressing like Eminem used to, as “The Real Slim Shady” plays. I graduated high school in 2001, when Eminem was super huge and some boys did jack his (dubious) style. By the time I graduated college in 2005, Eminem was not the king of the hill. That scene bugged the hell out of me because EVERYONE in the theater was shaking their heads going, “No guys, we know he wasn’t that popular in 2005”. It set up a joke in the next scene, sure, but it grated on me that an otherwise decent script botched such an obvious pop culture reference.
Anyway, that glitch in timing aside, 21 Jump Street is consistently funny throughout, with a few really huge laughs peppered in the script. Hill has been funny in ensembles (Superbad, Knocked Up) and in bit parts (40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but has struggled with carrying a comedy in the less-than-stellar Get Him to the Greek and The Sitter. In Jump Street, however, he finds his rhythm, and I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t directly related to his new-found confidence in his acting career in general (he’s an Oscar nominee now, after all), and that the chip on his shoulder has shrunk considerably in the last year or so. His timing and delivery are excellent here and he kills a couple really funny bits, but also delivers on the weightier, more serious moments in the movie, too. Seth Rogen has kind of dropped the ball as the leader of Judd Apatow’s comedy pack—Hill could end up running that group. Which would have scared me two years ago but now I feel like they’ll be in good hands.
But it’s Channing Tatum who steals the show as dim-jock-turned-chemistry-nerd Jenko that makes 21 Jump Street. I don’t know when this happened, and I resent every second of it, but I am finding myself more and more of a C Tates fan. He still looks like a Cro Magnon Man and I’m still not interested in his array of Nicholas Sparks, weepy romantic melodramas, but he’s growing on me as a movie star, and increasingly I believe he’s going to turn out to be a Movie Star. Hollywood is so desperate to find a young guy to carry the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt mantle of All Around Crowd Pleaser and it looks more and more like that title is C Tates’ for the taking. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN, AMERICA? If you told me anyone else engineered the career Tatum has had the last couple of years, I’d be impressed. But that it’s this guy doing it, I’m impressed, sure, but I’m also totally flabbergasted. This guy has all the business and marketing savvy? THIS GUY?
Hill and Tatum make a solid comedic team and given the success of Jump Street, I think we’ll either be seeing a sequel or a re-team in the near future. Hill plays Schmidt, a high school loser who joins the Police Academy, where he struggles with the physical tests but excels in the classroom, and Tatum is Jenko, who was popular in high school and has all the strength Schmidt lacks, but none of the smarts. Their first arrest is invalidated because Jenko doesn’t know the Miranda Rights, and they get transferred to an undercover division that sends young-looking cops into schools—21 Jump Street. Plot-wise, this is all the movie has in common with the show.
Where 21 Jump Street gets it so, so right is mining the friendship between Schmidt and Jenko for real sympathy. We put so much emphasis on the power of female relationships and the Sisterhood of Positivity that sometimes I think we forget that male friendships can be just as fraught and need just as much nurturing. This is one of the reasons I love Sherlock so much—it’s an unabashed look at the kind of deep, platonic love men can have for one another (because yes, despite all the jokes and subtext, I do think Holmes and Watson are platonic, but more on that later). Jump Street goes in a similar direction, showing Schmidt and Jenko pulling each other through their respective weaknesses, fussing over clothes, mocking one another, being petty and jealous, and ultimately, finding acceptance of one another’s foibles and forgiveness. It’s a truly sweet, genuine friendship. When they make their big arrest at the end and recite the Miranda Rights together, it feels like a truly triumphant moment. Yet the movie never bogs down in sentiment, instead drawing a lot of humor from the personality clash at the heart of their friendship.
21 Jump Street is a really funny movie—it’s a shoo-in for my funny movie rotation—with genuine heart and one of the most surprising and rewarding comic partnerships I’ve seen recently. Hill and Tatum each take a big leap toward major stardom with their success here, and honestly, it feels deserved for both of them.