If movies were people, 21 Jump Street would be the younger brother of The Hangover, both belonging to the same family of potty-mouthed comedies that are undeniably hilarious. But where The Hangover was blazingly original and thrived on its outrageousness, this one takes a familiar set-up and turns it on its head with perceptive writing.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are well cast as a pair of incompetent, baby-faced cops in their mid-twenties, who’re sent undercover as high school students in order to crack a teenage drug ring. The joke here is the culture shock faced by our two heroes as they discover that high school has changed considerably since the ten-odd years they were last here…so much so, in fact, that the once-nerdish Schmidt (Hill) now fits in comfortably with the cool kids, while dumb-jock and prom king-prototype Jenko (Tatum) finds favor with the geeks he once tormented.
Inspired from an Amercian TV series in the late 80s that launched the career of a certain Johnny Depp, the film borrows only the premise of undercover cops infiltrating a high school, but ditches the dramatic tone of the show for its own brand of raunchy, smutty humor complete with penis jokes, gay-bashing references, and recreational drug use among teens.
The real pleasure lies is in watching the film’s leads sportingly play off their own images. A slimmed-down Jonah Hill (who co-wrote the film) is terrific as the nerdish Schmidt, who’s always had trouble talking to girls, and Tatum – who is the big surprise here – displays a flair for playing a bone-head. Together they strike up a winning chemistry and make for an endearingly likeable pair despite all their dirty banter. In one particularly hilarious scene, the two partners must shove their hands into each other’s throats so they can puke up a drug they reluctantly consumed.
21 Jump Street loses some of its steam in those tired car-chases and action scenes, although it does contain a clever running gag about explosions. Another gag in the film’s climax, about a criminal who’s shot in a delicate spot, turns a little too crude even for non-prudes. Nevertheless, for the most part it’s a consistently filthy and funny film that benefits enormously from its first-rate cast, including Ice Cube as the profanity-spouting boss of our heroes, and an A-lister in a hilarious cameo.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for 21 Jump Street. It’s that rare adult comedy that’s smart and stinky at the same time. Don’t miss it.