A raunchy remake of an '80s TV series
It's a remake! It's a retread! It's a - re-booty!
Whatever you call 21 Jump Street, this potty-mouthed and drug-laced reimagining of the 1980s TV show has one of the highest laughs-per-minute ratios since the Naked Gun films.
It takes the premise of its television forebear - baby-faced cops go undercover as 12th-graders in order to bust high school drug dealers - and turns it inside out. When these rookie policemen go undercover, each gets a high school do-over.
Back in 2005 when they were seniors, brainiac Schmidt (Jonah Hill) dressed like a not-so-Slim-Shady version of Eminem and was way uncool.
Brain-baked Jenko (Channing Tatum) resembled Sk8er Boi and was way hot. In police academy the former rivals reconnect. First, they are study buddies: Schmidt tutors Jenko on written exams while Jenko prods Schmidt to exercise for the physical tests.
Whatever their beat, the stubby Schmidt and studly Jenko are complementary in their strengths, although Jenko wouldn't know his Miranda Rights from Carmen Miranda. Because their first assignment as bicycle patrolmen is less than a success, they get assigned to Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), a self-identified "angry black man" who tells his multiracial charges to "embrace your stereotypes."
In this meta-buddy-cop-movie that religiously observes the conventions of the genre while cheerfully desecrating them, Dickson looks at Jenko and observes, "You're handsome, and probably dumb." Then he looks at Schmidt and says, "You're probably short, insecure, and good with money."
Then, Dickson dispatches the smart cop and his none-too-swift partner back to high school. Because of a clerical error, Schmidt finds himself in the drama department and Jenko with the chemistry nerds. Given the changes in high school culture, the qualities that made Schmidt an outsider when he was a senior now admit him to the in crowd. Alas for Jenko, meatheadedness is so 2005.
Written by Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim v. The World) from a story idea by Hill, Jump Street wants to be all things to all moviegoers and pretty much succeeds. It's a high school parody, a stoner comedy, a mismatched-cop yarn, trading-places merriment and buddy-buddy action/adventure.
Not every director could pull this off, but Phil Lord and Chris Miller, makers of the enjoyable 2009 animation Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, frame it like a live-action cartoon.
They are fortunate in the team of Tatum and Hill as the extreme jock and the exaggerated nerd. They embrace the stereotypes while investing them with actual personalities. See Schmidt's poker-faced thrill at running with the cool kids (who include Dave Franco, the enigmatic real-life younger brother of the enigmatic James). See Jenko, socially marginalized for the first time, for the first time understanding what it must have felt like for Schmidt to be ostracized by classmates.
That this loud, profane, drug-infused affair has performances of such empathy makes its comedy all the more hilarious. For all its raunch and noise, it's endearingly funny.