21 Jump Street seemed on the surface like yet another old TV show adapted into a movie by a Hollywood that's bankrupt for ideas. And you know what? They actually acknowledge that fact within the movie. Unlike many of these situations, though, Jump Street has an infectious energy to it. It's directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who I previously underestimated when they made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a movie that looked kinda generic but wound up being quite clever and fun. I've decided not to underestimate these guys anymore; I like what they're doing.
Reimagined as an action comedy, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as two underachieving cops, who, after a botched arrest (Tatum never learned the Miranda Rights, a running gag through the movie) are assigned to the revived Jump Street division, where young-looking cops go undercover at local schools as students. Their mission is to find the source of a new synthetic drug that is growing increasingly popular among the students.
They are given new identities but wind up getting themselves mixed up and have to take each others' classes. I thought it was an interesting spin and a good opportunity for comedy, because rather than seeing them fall into the same social statuses they inhabited as teens, we get to see their situations reversed. High school is a much different place than it was even ten years ago. There's a funny joke where they look at all the new cliques that have emerged and can't figure out what the hell they are.
The cast is all around good. I'm always ready to like Jonah Hill in things, and he's been having a pretty good run lately. Channing Tatum really surprised me. He's never really stood out in anything to me. I assumed there must have been something I wasn't seeing, since I knew Steven Soderbergh has been using him a bunch these days. The strong supporting cast includes Nick Offerman, Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Brie Larson and Rob Riggle.
I don't want to ruin things, because there are a lot of big laughs in 21 Jump Street, and a surprisingly fun story. Screenwriters Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall manage to juggle a lot of funny situations and running gags throughout the movie, and by the time they pile up at the end, they result in some really good payoffs, one after the other.
It's only March, but I think 21 Jump Street is a pretty strong contender for the comedy of 2012. It felt like one of those movies where the screenplay, cast, and director just clicked, and there's a real sense of liveliness to it as a result. You know how if you're doing something, and you can sense that it's good, your enthusiasm makes it even better? I think that's what happened.