Against most odds, this semi-satirical, sneeringly nasty redux of the old ’80s/’90s TV series proves to be a winning two-hour escape from reality in the multiplex. This is not to say it rises to the level of “art,” or even transcends the category of “guilty pleasure,” but for a movie that freely stoops to detached-penis–brand humor, it’s actually somewhat overqualified for its genre in the intelligence department.
Plot-wise, we follow the twisting fates of two doofus rookie cops (Jonah Hill, whose comic charm we know about, and Channing Tatum, pleasantly surprising us with his comedian moxie). Their foolish cop dreams of legally allowable gunplay and winning the attentions of women who love a man in uniform are quickly dashed when they’re appointed to bicycle-cop duty in a neighborhood park. A fumbled drug bust leads them to a dubious assignment as undercover cops in a high school where a new, virulent, and hallucinogenic drug has surfaced. Their mission: “Infiltrate the dealers; find the supply,” says their tough-talking superior (played by Ice Cube).
Suddenly, the film’s premise opens up to become a strange mutant beast of a film, about life in the microcosm of high school, dirty dealings with über-bad dudes (including a scene in which the implicit question might be “What would Johnny Depp do?”), and some decadent follies in the line of duty. Those include a miniature version of the party-gone-wild milieu as seen recently in Project X and kitschy-cool drug-tripping scenes leaning in the direction of Michel Gondry. To its credit, at times we forget that this is just a lowbrow post-Apatow comedy yarn.
At the neat wrap-up of all the hijinks gone down and lies unraveled, 21 Jump Street is somehow all in good, clean/dirty, transgressive fun, with surprising jolts of creative perkiness in the mix. Come for the adolescent jokes; stay for the strange, intriguing weave of the whole cinematic enchilada.