21 Jump Street: directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller; written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill
21 Jump Street is a film which depends on familiar beats. What makes it even more interesting to me, though, is the way it emerges as something of hodgepodge depending on a slew of different genre hooks. At the most obvious level the film is caught somewhere between high school comedy and work place drama, and within that it’s part of that genre of adults heading back to high school while also being a cop comedy and a buddy comedy and amidst all that a spoof on pop culture – sort of. It’s to its credit, then, that at its finest moments 21 Jump Street is so honest and forthcoming with its humour that it manages to work. This is despite a slew of plot developments that make little sense both in and out of the film’s unrealistic world and in that way – and with a high school at its main playing ground 21 Jump Street (and this, too, is perhaps deliberate) seems like a nostalgic romp, but the nostalgia which it recalls is the not too distant nineties where film gaffes made little literal sense but still made for warm refreshing experiences.
Morton and Greg went to high-school together. The latter was the geek, the former was the nerd. They didn’t interact much. Somehow they both end up at the Police Academy, which immediately makes me raise eyebrows. We don’t see much of Schmidt taking actual classes, but he’s smart and he even mentions (whilst in his highschool get-up) that he could apply to Berkley and get in, which of course begs the question why he wants to be a police officer since the question isn’t specifically addressed by the narrative, but I digress. Morton is the brain, Greg is the brawn and together they try and fail to carry out their first arrest. Their youthful looks (another gaffe because although Tatum and Hill don’t look old they look older than the fellow “youthful” cops on 21 Jump Street and much older than the high school students) lands them in a peculiar department where the police infiltrate high school as students to solve crimes. A new synthetic drug leads to a student’s death and the two are put on the case.
For all the genres it dabbles in, the film is – for the most part – keenly aware of the story it’s telling. The running gag of the stages off the drug precipitates is used excellently throughout. The appearances form Nick Offerman, Ice-Cube, Ellie Kemper, Johnny Depp and Johnny Simmon (the latter two almost walk off with the film in their single scenes) are all used so well in a way that makes me want to cheer the directors and writers for doing something recent films of this ilk don’t seem capable of doing – handling their cast well. Because, this is an actors’ movie – not in the traditional sense, but even though it’s a comedy the gags emerge from the actors’ cadences and not from the script’s conceits.
This Is Nice, Isn’t It? / B-