The reference to the highly average 80s’ TV show that brought Johnny Depp to fame may be lost on much of the target audience for this film, but this witty twist on the high school cop caper stands up perfectly on its own two sneaker-clad feet.
Alternating between metatextual quips about recycling “s**t from the past and hop[ing] nobody notices” and some more conventional slapstick sequences, the film generally gets the laughs it so desperately strives for despite a slightly shoddy script.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is a nerdiac-turned-cop who is unexpectedly reunited with his high school classmate and social opposite, jock Jenko (Channing Tatum), when the pair sign up to become officers for the LAPD. Having overcome the high school stigma which kept them at separate ends of the canteen years before, the lads find that they can use each other’s strengths to survive the brutal police training programme.
But after a bungled arrest operation, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves demoted to 21 Jump Street where they are sent undercover to expose a drugs ring in a nearby high school. To Jenko’s horror, times have changed since he was king of the corridors (who knew using BOTH straps of your backpack would ever become cool). It all provides the perfect opportunity for poking fun at the tired high school movie tropes that audiences have had thrust at them since Danny fell for Sandy.
The gross-out humour that has become synonymous with Hill’s presence in a flick rears its head in several places – at one point we observe the blasting off of one man’s genitalia. But it is all tempered by an altogether more intelligent sense of humour which seeks to parody the 80s show along with the majority of crass action set pieces which have followed in its wake.
Tatum and Hill make an intriguing and unexpected comic duo. Tatum’s physical prowess and lifeless glare are put to good use as a former jock-type but one gets the feeling that this is simply a case of good casting as opposed to comic talent. Meanwhile, Hill puts in one of the most restrained comic performances of his career – hallucinogenic baton race aside. With the pair playing relatively straight amongst the mayhem, the absurd parodies appear all the more absurd.
Jonah co-wrote alongside Michael Bacall and despite their best intentions, for every belly laugh comes a couple of belly flops which prevent this being a top notch laugh-a-thon. Don’t forget to watch out for you-know-who’s (albeit slightly disappointing) cameo .