Two high school classmates – an alpha dog named Jenko (Channing Tatum) and a loser-nerd named Schmidt (Jonah Hill) –cross paths again at the police academy, where their friendship bridges the gulf of coolness. Their spectacular incompetence and raw inexperience land them in an undercover operation run out of an abandoned church by an angry captain played by Ice Cube, also heard on the soundtrack expressing a rather critical view of law enforcement in a vintage song by his former group N.W.A.
The juxtaposition of the middle-aged Ice Cube as a foul-mouthed cop with the young Ice Cube as a foul-mouthed cop hater typifies the film’s playful, grabbing idea of itself. There are some obligatory ‘80s and early ‘90s references, and cameos from some of the old “21 Jump Street” cast members, but ageing Generation X nostalgists - not that I have anybody particular in mind– may be disappointed, which is a good thing.
Jenko and Schmidt suffer their own micro-generational displacement, which is much funnier than big shoulder pads, shaggy mullets or acid-washed denim. Sent back to high school, where they masquerade as students, these 20 somethings are shocked to discover how much has changed since 2005. Everybody texts, and the old social hierarchies seem to have broken down. Kids these days are so tolerant and sensitive and environmentally conscious, Jenko notes, with some dismay. “I blame “Glee”,” he says.
There is, obviously, a genetic connection between that show and this movie. On TV “21 Jump Street” was an hour-long youth-targeted Fox prime-time offering that mixed whimsy, emotion and public-service-announcement sobriety as it confronted social ills like bullying, bigotry and drug abuse. The movie takes aggressive satirical aim at exactly this kind of piety without risking true offensiveness. Among the bad guys, for instance, is a clique of diverse, articulate, college-bound, ecology-minded teenagers, led by Eric (Dave Franco), whose very existence destroys the categories Schmidt and Jenko rely on and who are also dealing dangerous drugs.
Eventually action-movie police work overwhelms high-school high jinks, which is too bad, since Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller operator (who previously directed the chaotic animated film “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) show no specific distinction in setting up chases and shootouts. The real energy in the film comes from Mr. Hill and Mr. Tatum, who at the same time fulfill and reverse their buddy-movie stereotypes.
Written by Sukanya Roy
Artist, Critic, Writer, Photographer, Movie buff, Graphic Designer, Literature and Geography enthusiast, Soccer fan, and Imaginative.