There's lots of action in 21 Jump Street — car chases, shootouts, two mismatched partners — but the real reason to see it is that it's side-splittingly funny from beginning to end. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill play Jenko and Schmidt, two relatively new cops whose incompetency lands them in an undercover program in high schools. Their assignment is to root out the dealers and suppliers of a dangerous new designer drug. As they spend more time in their new, younger identities, Jenko and Schmidt essentially switch high school personas. Former jock Jenko takes a foray into science with a clique of nerds, while Schmidt is welcomed into the unfamiliar world of the popular crowd. Tatum and Hill get lots of laughs from their nerd/popular kid juxtaposition, and their chemistry is the key to why 21 Jump Street is so entertaining.
The film is inspired by the TV series of the same name, but the new characters have little in common with the show's roster of officers (Johnny Depp's Tom Hanson would so not have approved of throwing a party for underage kids). The movie simply borrows the concept of undercover cops going back to school and runs with it into a hilarious, action-packed direction. Find out the other reasons I loved 21 Jump Street when you keep reading.
The combination of Tatum and Hill is hugely winning; they play off each other perfectly, with Hill delivering his familiar-but-still-fantastic shtick while Tatum impresses with his ability to keep up with Hill. Tatum is the pleasant surprise here; while I've been charmed by him plenty of times before, it's never been in a comedy. Tatum has proven his ability to dance and romance onscreen, but in 21 Jump Street, he shows off his considerable chops, including spot-on delivery and physical comedy. With this addition to Tatum's résumé of diverse roles, he's establishing himself as a solid, versatile leading man.
The supporting cast is also standout; Rob Riggle is great as a suspicious teacher, Dave Franco grew on me as an obnoxious teenage drug dealer, and there are tons of brief but awesome bits from TV stars like New Girl's Jake Johnson and The Office's Ellie Kemper. Plus, some of the original cast members from the 21 Jump Street series appear for cameos that are just right; they're winks to the audience but not inside jokes that'll alienate anyone who's never seen the show.
The movie works all around, from its hugely funny script to its delightful pair of leading men. My hope is that other films that re-imagine older ideas take a cue from 21 Jump Street, and find ways to refresh rather than recycle.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures