Though the TV series that its based is a bit before my time, the 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street is a personal favorite of mine. The film tells the story of how nerdy Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular but none-too-intelligent jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) first met in high school, went to the police academy together, both turned out to really bad cops together, and then returned to high school together.
Why did they return to high school? Because they’re both working undercover now! As part of a recently revived program from the 80s (and that would apparently be the original television series), young cops are being sent undercover into high school. As all the other cops involved with the program appear to be super cops, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) has every reason to believe that Schmidt and Jenko will be able to discover who is responsible for dealing a dangerous new synthetic drug known as HFS.
One of the things that makes 21 Jump Street work is that, at no point, does the film pretend that either Channing Tatum or Jonah Hill could still pass for a high school student. One of the film’s best moments comes when a drug dealing environmentalist/student named Eric Molson (Dave Franco, brother of my beloved James) tells Jenko that he suspects that Jenko may be a cop. “Why?” Jenko asks. “You’re taste in music. The fact that you look like a fucking forty-year old man,” Eric replies.
Not surprisingly, Jenko and Schmidt prove themselves to be fairly clueless about how high school has changed. One thing that I’ve always found interesting about high school films is that often times, regardless of when a particularly film might be set, it still feels like it’s taking place ten to twenty years in the past. That’s largely because most high school films are made by directors who are trying to relive their youth and, as a result, they end up making a film about a high school in 2014 where all of the students look and act as if they’re living in the 90s. The truth of the matter is that things change pretty quickly.
That’s one reason why I haven’t set foot back in my high school since I graduated. As much fun as I did have in high school and even though I’ve been told that I can still pass for high school age (and I still constantly get asked for ID), the fact of the matter is that it’s no longer 2004.
When Jenko and Schmidt return to high school, they do so expecting to have to return to their previous teenager personas. That’s good news for Jenko and not so good news for Schmidt. However, once they arrive (and after their class schedules accidentally get switched), they discover that high school has changed. Jocks like Jenko no longer rule the school and Schmidt is now one of the popular kids…
Before I saw 21 Jump Street, I knew that Jonah Hill was funny. But the film’s big surprise was that Channing Tatum is just as funny. Throughout the film, Tatum shows a willingness to poke fun at his own image and proves that he can deliver an absurd one-liner as masterfully as just about anyone else working today. There’s a lot of reasons why 21 Jump Street is a funny film. It’s full of funny lines and the movie features a lot of very sharp satire of both the action and the teen genres. But the true pleasure of the film comes from the comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill.
It’s just a lot of fun to watch.