21 Jump Street (2012) — The buddy cop movie inverted and subverted

“We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle s**t from the past and expect us all not to notice.”

Justin’s rating: It is hard to throw up on cue

Justin’s review: Unfortunately, it’s all too common for Hollywood writers to be staring at a blank screen and a deadline, then panic and plunder whatever classic property was on the clearance rack at K-Mart that week. And all of these franchise reboots, without exception, make for terrible movies that forever blemish that franchise. It’s very much like digging up someone’s grandmother’s skeletal corpse to use as a Halloween prop, only to discard it on November 1st in the trash can and shrug apologetically to the next-of-kin.

I say this because in a realm of no exceptions, once in a great while reality bends, a scriptwriter is inspired, and a genuinely awesome revival happens. That’s what I heard about 21 Jump Street, at least, and so I had to check it out for myself. Plus, this movie’s very existence gave my wife a permanent eye twitch due to her love of the ’80s series, so I had to pile on that.

After an antagonistic run in high school, dorky-but-smart Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular-yet-dumb Jenko (Channing Tatum) end up bonding in police academy and help each other rise to become halfway decent police officers. Well, bike cops, at least. Well, they’re idiots too, but at least they’re pretty entertaining idiots.

And where better to assign idiot cops who look young? The Jump Street high school undercover program, of course. The two become fake brothers who enroll to find the source of a new and lethal drug that’s ravaging teens. Of course, this job is a nightmare to Schmidt, who hated high school the first time around and is low-key freaking out about the repeat experience.

However, he shouldn’t have worried so much. Due to the shifting culture, geeks are in, and Schmidt is surprised to find himself adopting the role of the popular one while Jenko becomes the outcast. And the high school world they enter is vastly different than the one they knew so well just a half-decade or so ago, which requires all sorts of on-the-spot re-education. It’s a script-flip that you don’t see coming — and it’s a comedy goldmine when it’s unveiled. Seeing Tatum gradually go from being a beefcake jock to a gleeful nerd is a journey I want to see a few more times.

So why does this all work? Why does 21 Jump Street absolutely deserve the praise as a modern action-comedy buddy cop classic when so many other franchise reboots only impact society by the amount of toxins their DVD cases give off when they decompose?

I think it comes back to the writers. They know what they’re doing is silly and derivative, so instead of trying to mask that, they push even further into that territory by making something that’s extremely silly while pointing out every trope along the way before you can think of it yourself. Then they subvert expectations, write a couple of rather likable leads, pepper the whole thing with as many jokes as possible, prop it up with strong supportive actors (Brie Larson, Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Jake Johnson, Nick Offerman), and toss in a few explosions to boot. How can you not have a good time when that’s the formula?

My only complaint here is that the R-rating allows for creative laziness at times — just make some of the characters swear or do the occasional gross-out gag rather than be clever.

21 Jump Street proves that the combination of good cast chemistry and smart writing is pretty much the only shot franchise reboots have to escape the orbit of ensured failure. We already knew this back in the ’90s with Wayne’s World and The Brady Bunch, and it’s good to see someone learning it here.

Didja notice?

  • Oh man, Slim Shady, that takes me to bad places
  • Men bonding over crying and trash can kicking
  • Being a bike cop means seeing homeless people doo-dooing everywhere
  • The victory hug over an arrest — and a few bullets in the air
  • Their boss is Ron Swanson!
  • Captain Sassy
  • “They’re teenagers, man. They’re really stupid. So you should blend in.”
  • You don’t finish prayers with “the end”
  • If you’re not Korean, don’t bother Korean Jesus
  • “This house is adorable!”
  • “This looks like I died in a car crash and you haven’t moved on.”
  • “It’s literally a medal for sucking.”
  • “Are you two-strapping?”
  • All of the different high school cliques
  • The quiz answers
  • The guys tripping on the new drug — ice cream head and all
  • That’s a lot of 4s
  • Autistic != artistic
  • Schmidt yelling at his mom on the phone
  • “That was worse than when he hit me!”
  • “When did I get stabbed? That’s awesome!”
  • “Put ‘er there, man!”
  • The General Zod mentions
  • “Whoa, what are you wearing?” “Potassium nitrate, thanks for noticing.”
  • The passive-aggressive use of a driver’s ed teacher brake
  • When ZZ Top attacks
  • Lacrosse is a great freeway chase weapon
  • When tanks DON’T explode on cue
  • Compliment women when you steal their cars
  • Finally, a chicken explosion
  • About time we had a flying Peter Pan fight
  • The suiting up (for prom) sequence
  • The box of doves
  • The french fry song
  • “You made me a friendship bracelet!”
  • The O.G. Jump Street crew
  • “You’re really hot but I’ve got to shoot people right now!”
  • The great end credits sequence

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