“21 Jump Street”: A Bromance for Bros

Jonah, you're the best, but seriously, did anyone even bother trying to teach you how to hold a gun?

Isn’t it strangely tragic that only once high school is all over, you finally get it?  You finally understand all of the social structures, clique politics, and the subtle nuances of teenage interaction.  And part of you can’t help but think, “Man, with what I know now, if I went back to high school it would be so easy!”  Right?  Wrong!  It’s that “hindsight is 20/20 effect”; we don’t really realize that while we are growing up and changing, so are all those high school clichés.  I grew up watching sitcoms and learning how the jocks were the cool kids, the smart kids were all socially inept nerds, and the cheerleaders ruled the school, but when high school was actually upon me, none of that really seemed true.  Everything was changing; new stereotypes were forming, even then.  And now, things are getting more and more strange for everyone.

The new “21 Jump Street” film, while really funny and quite obnoxious, focuses pretty heavily on this idea of “high school in flux”.  We’ve seen the structure before: for whatever reason, a person/people in their early twenties find themselves having to enroll in high school again, usually because they are a cop and need to narc-up to bust some juvenile drug ring.  So the idea is a bit stale, but it’s pretty refreshingly done in “21 Jump Street.”

In the film’s opening, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is a bumbling but intelligent Slim Shady lookalike and Jenko (Channing Tatum) is a jock so dumb that he gets banned from going to prom as a result.  It comes as a surprise to both of them when five years later they team up in the police academy and become best friends and partners.  But after a botched drug bust and arrest, the pair is reassigned to the 21 Jump Street division, where Ice Cube plays their constantly screaming, angry captain.  Their task is to infiltrate a high school posing as students to stop the outbreak of a new synthetic drug that has already taken the life of a young teen.

They soon find out, however, that all their ideas of high school have been changed by the new cliques that modern high schoolers might recognize: neo-hippies, Goths, hipsters, and social circles that nobody has even heard of crowd around the school parking lot. The “it crowd” is replaced by drug-using students from the honor roll who actually care about the environment. Somehow Schmidt is able to charm this group by joining drama club, and the former king of the jocks, Jenko, is awkwardly left to befriend the world’s biggest nerds. It’s a shocking bit of irony to see Channing Tatum as the socially isolated one, even if he is still being hit on by his super hot science teacher, played by the perpetually ditsy Ellie Kemper (of “The Office” and “Bridesmaids” fame). This strange role reversal winds up being the best and worst thing about the movie. I love him to death, but Jonah Hill – even after losing an incredible amount of weight since his most recent role in “The Sitter” – is just painfully awkward acting as one of the cool kids. And when his chubby limp wrists are holding a handgun, it just looks plain silly.

Channing Tatum, however, is the saving grace of the movie. It’s interesting to see him take on a comedic role and he handles it well, even when a lot of time is spent with everyone ridiculing how dumb he is. In probably my favorite scene in the film, the mismatched pair of undercover cops throws a party in their home. Schmidt tries to be cool enough to start a fight to impress both a drug dealer and his love interest (a weird combo, isn’t it!?), which amounts to him flailing around screaming for help. And as soon as Jenko hears what’s going on, he goes on a rampage, driven by pure bromance that allows him to easily beat up dozens of partygoers in an attempt to help his partner. He awesomely tears through all these kids like some kind of UFC street fighter.  The epic bromance only kicks up more and more notches by the end of the film, when their mutual frustrations boil over just as they try to solve the case. Of course, it all wraps up at prom with more than a few surprises along the way.

Ultimately, if you’re a fan of simple raunchy humor or even just bromance in general, then I think you’ll get a kick out of this one!