In the prologue, we're introduced to high school nerd Schmidt (Jonah Hill, Moneyball) and his dumb-jock tormenter, Jenko (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike). Seven years later, both enroll in the police academy, and form an unlikely friendship by helping each other get through. At graduation, they barely can contain their excitement about a law-enforcement career: "Get ready for a lifetime of being badass motherfuckers."
Cut to the duo relegated to the demeaning post of bicycle cops a gig so easy, even they screw it up. The only thing saving their bacon is that they're sent to the department's resurrected undercover program that puts officers incognito in local high schools. Their new supervisor (former "Fuck Tha Police" rapper Ice Cube, hilarious at showing zero patience) wants Schmidt and Jenko to sniff out the suppliers of a new street drug making the rounds among the student body.
The main joke of Jump Street is how the two guys' social standings now have flip-flopped. Not giving a crap is no longer cool, Jenko learns to his dismay, while Schmidt relishes the change: "Liking comic books is popular! Environmental awareness, being tolerant ..."
Tolerant: That's a fair word to bring up when discussing Hill. His shtick and it is a shtick, as evident from Superbad to The Sitter and, judging from the trailers, the upcoming The Watch can grate on viewers' nerves, and I understand. To me, it depends on the movie. He tones it down here, partly because he's not having to do all the bulk of the comedic lifting.
For one thing, the supporting cast is littered with MVPs from the very best of TV's current sitcoms, including Chris Parnell (30 Rock), Jake Johnson (New Girl), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and Ellie Kemper (The Office). For another, even funnier is Tatum. That's actually an understatement: Tatum is a revelation as Jenko. Where's he been hiding these comedy chops? Certainly not under a fat roll. (Aside: The DVD comes with a $1-off coupon for Body Fortress Powder.) He's very smart at playing very stupid, so for once, you're laughing with Tatum versus at him.
Hill's not the only one turning the dial a notch to the left. As Schmidt's love interest, Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) wisely opts not to do yet another variation of the snottier-than-thou girl she's pulled off through most of her filmography. Just when I was beginning to tire of her increasing presence in projects, her natural charm here won me back.
I found 21 Jump Street to be even more enjoyable on a second viewing, if only because you can hear all the lines drowned out by laughter from theater audiences. Still, the gags are consistent enough to merit a high repeat value, which I suspect will result in huge DVD sales for years. Although Hill shares story credit, the screenplay belongs to Michael Bacall, which means he's responsible for both one of 2012's best comedies and one of its worst: Project X. Strange how those things work out.
Four deleted scenes are included in the extras, with the best being a bedtime scene in which Schmidt and Jenko discuss the ethics of sleeping with their fellow students, should the opportunity present itself.
With surprise cameos, rapid-fire pacing and perhaps the most ADHD end-credit sequence known to man, co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) pull a surprising success out of a show nobody cares about. You damn skippy. Rod Lott
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