Dynamic duo, hilarious script make '21 Jump Street' a buddy-cop sensation

Columbia

By Sean Czarnecki, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 18, 2012

“You ready for a lifetime of being badass motherfuckers?” a muscular Channing Tatum murmurs to Jonah Hill at their police-academy graduation. Hill says nothing back and just looks out over the crowd with the wide-eyed look of a boy getting his first bicycle.

21 Jump Street


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The next shot: Hill and Tatum on bicycles patrolling a family-friendly park, unable to stop a prepubescent simpleton from feeding some ducks in a pond.

And thus begins what will undoubtedly be one of the funniest films of 2012: “21 Jump Street.”

Based on the ’80s procedural of the same name, this buddy-cop spoof features Hill and Tatum as undercover cops posing as high-school students trying to bust a drug ring. It’s an absurd concept peppered with plot holes. But who cares? With a vulgar, punched-up script and strong performances from Hill and even the notoriously obnoxious heartthrob Tatum, there are only two reasons the audience should stop laughing: a) They simply can’t laugh anymore or b) the movie’s over.

Despite the release of such recent spoofs as “The Other Guys” and “Hot Fuzz,” screenwriter Michael Bacall (“Project X”) keeps the concept fresh. In addition to satirizing cop films, “21 Jump Street” also takes on the multiculturally smug atmosphere of today and yesteryear’s ignorant, jock-ruled high school. Bacall changes the Hollywood high school we’ve all come to know and abhor: Suddenly, students think it’s cool to be eco-friendly, to read comic books, to act and to be politically correct. Whether or not this type of high school actually exists is irrelevant. Bacall’s high school presents a smart counter-point to the stereotypical high school Hill's and Tatum’s characters graduated from.

In “Funny People,” Hill told Seth Rogen that “there’s nothing funny about a physically fit man.” With “21 Jump Street,” he has proven himself wrong. He might have lost 40 pounds, but he doesn’t lose a single comedic step and he’s not nearly as caustic of a character as he played in 2007’s “Superbad.” He’s just a sweet kid with a foul mouth. Likewise, Tatum may be a pretty boy, but some of the funniest (and filthiest) lines of the movie are spewed from his mouth. In many ways, the character he plays is self-referential and actually makes fun of his image as a sexual icon. Here, his stupidity is endearing.

Tatum and Hill have great chemistry. They bounce colorful one-liners off each other effortlessly and the scenes flow naturally. Seeing Hill in his high-school years as a Slim Shady-wannabe with braces and Tatum sporting a Fabio-esque haircut is just hilarious. The casting is perfect — though admittedly, it would have been pretty epic if there had been a cameo by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader in their “Superbad” police uniforms.

So does “21 Jump Street” break boundaries? Will it be remembered among such comedies as “Some Like it Hot”? Probably not. But with a slew of buddy-cop movies and TV shows coming out every year (e.g. every damn “CSI” and “Law & Order”) it’s important to spoof them, to hold Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy accountable. Movies like “21 Jump Street” can do just that, and maybe they can even revitalize some of our most formulaic but beloved genres.