For what it is, 21 Jump Street is pretty much perfect. It’s not exactly a great film, but it hits all the right notes and rings all the right bells while it plays, which led to a lot of laughter from me. In the middle, the film tries to be too serious to be completely effective, but that’s its only misstep. If it was more tightly edited, it would be just about as good as this sort of thing can be. As it is, it’s very enjoyable for anyone enjoying a very profane, slightly stupid comedy.
Surprisingly enough, there aren’t many moments when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller attempt gross-out comedy. I was actually impressed that the majority of the film veered away from that area, only targeting it right at the end, when we’re pretty much done with the film anyway. When used as sparingly as it is here, gross-out comedy is effective. It’s overused so frequently that it often loses its shock value, but thankfully that’s not what happens here.
Instead, 21 Jump Street is more focused on awkward situations, turning characters on their heads, and making fun of action movies, buddy comedies, and even itself. Perhaps the biggest laughs that the film will garner come from the times when it’s willing to make fun of its very existence. This is a film that is often self-aware, almost going so far as to break the fourth wall and wink directly at the audience. It doesn’t go quite that far, and it might take some viewers a couple of seconds to realize the points in time when it happens, but you’ll soon realize when the film makes it very clear that even it isn’t exempt from being the target of a joke.
While it may take a second or two for some of the jokes to sink in, what won’t go unnoticed right away is the appearance of Johnny Depp. The film makes sure that you notice exactly when he appears, going so far as to zoom in right on his face after the reveal. I think that Depp’s role is probably the most memorable thing about the film as a whole, probably because the filmmakers made sure that you were focusing all of your attention when it happens.
If you’re wondering exactly why Johnny Depp has a cameo in this film, you clearly haven’t been paying enough attention to your 80s television series. Depp had the lead role in the TV show of the same name, and it helped bump him into stardom. Now, over twenty years since the series ended, it has been brought back from the grave, taking the basic premise but not even coming close to the tone. It’s basically called “21 Jump Street” in hopes that it will draw in some of the people who enjoyed the old television show.
That premise that I mentioned involves a group of police officers, who all either look or act immature enough to pass as high school student, going undercover in order to accomplish certain tasks, most of which involve drugs. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have the leads, being tasked by Ice Cube’s police Captain to befriend the dealers of a new synthetic drug, find out who the supplier is, and take everyone down.
Meanwhile, they have to go through high school all over again. Back in 2005, when they were both actually in high school, things were different. Morton (Hill, who was also one of the film’s writers) was a nerd, while Greg (Tatum), was the most popular jock. Now, things have been flipped. High school in 2012 is not the same as it was seven years prior. There are some clever shots taken at the differences, and soon enough, each character finds himself in the reverse role that they played when they were actually the right age to be sitting in class all day long.
Most of the film deals with the goings on around high school, the pair trying to get in with the popular crowd (Dave Franco and Brie Larson), and then a few action scenes sprinkled into the mix. It’s not pushing any new grounds, and you can tell exactly when an attempted character moment is coming up, but it’s effective regardless simply because it’s so funny. It’s a really stupid movie, but it’s funny and it understands that being stupid doesn’t mean that you have to be bad. It embraces the fact that it’s lacking in real depth, and because it takes that approach, it’s effective.
21 Jump Street serves to prove two things about Channing Tatum. (1) He can be an effective comedic actor if given the right direction, and (2) he should have a promising action career ahead of him if he chooses to pursue it. While Jonah Hill comes into the film as the top comedian, Tatum holds his own and actually steals some scenes away from his co-star. When it comes to the action, Tatum is by far and away the better actor for the job, something that the filmmakers know and therefore use Hill more for laughs and Tatum more to make audience go “wow.”
21 Jump Street pretty much delivers on what you see in the trailers. It embraces how silly and stupid it is, makes fun of everyone (including itself), has some very funny jokes, and stays away from trying to gross us out. The actors are effective, the action is fairly enjoyable, and while it is slightly overlong, mostly in its second act, it stays moderately funny throughout with a few big laughs scattered every now and then. I had a surprisingly good time with this film, and if you go in expecting a stupid, yet funny, comedy, you won’t go wrong with this one.