When it comes to pairings you can’t do much better than Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. In terms of having chemistry on screen as buddy cop partners the two will most likely end up ranking with amongst the best in the modern era of buddy cop films; the two work so wonderfully together it makes you forget that 21 Jump Street isn’t a brilliant film. It’s merely good, which isn’t a bad thing.
The premise is fairly simple. Tatum and Hill are two cops paired together on a beat right out of the academy. In high school they were on opposite sides of the spectrum. Morton (Hill) was a bit of a geek who Jenko (Tatum) picked on as the best jock in school. Morton winds up being the intellectual who can’t pass the physical tests of the academy with Jenko’s physical prowess isn’t matched mentally, as he can’t pass the academic part of the Police Academy. Combining their talents they find themselves new friends and partners upon graduation.
When a bust goes awry they’re transferred to an undercover unit working in high schools because both are fairly youthful looking. With their foul mouthed captain (Ice Cube) breathing down their necks, the two have to bring down a new synthetic drug that’s about to take over the schools drug trade. Working undercover, the two blunder their way through high school again as they try to bring down the newfound drug ring.
Based off the television show of the same name from the ‘80s, which played it seriously as opposed to the comic relief the film version does, the film pulls off something that Hot Fuzz did several years ago: it lampoons the buddy cop action film genre as a whole while also being a great buddy cop action film. And it starts with the first rate pairing of Hill and Tatum.
Oddly enough it’s Tatum, and not Hill, who manages to be the comic relief of the duo. Hill is more of a known quantity in comedies and gets some quality lines but it’s Tatum who does most of the heavy lifting in the comedy department. When a comic mix up leaves him with freaks and geeks of high school, and Morton in the popular crowd, he has a much more interesting character arc than Hill does. It’s intriguing to see his character have to adjust by not being the big man on campus again instead of Morton’s bottom to top of the food chain variety. We all wish we could relive moments of high school as the popular kid instead of the geek; living through it again and experiencing it from all the perspective of the people he used to pick on is insightful on many levels.
It doesn’t hurt that the film’s comedy is fairly solid across the board. Jonah Hill, who helped write the film, cuts through and satirizes the genre with remarkable efficiency. The film’s big car chase can’t be matched in terms of comedic pacing in that the big moments of action that would normally be punctuated with explosions and mayhem are instead filled with genuinely good comedic moments.
The problem is that the film doesn’t hit on nearly as many numbers when it’s trying to focus on the buddy cop aspect instead of the action aspects. Throw in the fact that the film goes for the easy way out with Ice Cube’s “Angry Black Captain” instead of offering some genuine parody of the formula and the film doesn’t hit the funny nearly as often as it could. 21 Jump Street is significantly better than it had any right to be, of course, but doesn’t quite hit on as many cylinders as it could.
Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Notable Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Ron Riggle, Brie Larson, Dave Franco
Writer: Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall, based on the television series created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell