When Sony's 21 Jump Street was released in March 2012, it was a surprise hit with critics and audiences, becoming one of the most acclaimed studio comedies in recent memory. Everybody was once again shocked by the pure directorial talent of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two directors who can elevate material to another level thanks to their wit and sarcastic, self-referential type of humor. I missed 21 Jump Street when it came out in 2012, but with the sequel, 22 Jump Street, hitting theaters tomorrow, I figured that now was a good time to check the original out. And for me, it ended up being a prime example of having expectations that were way too high.
21 Jump Street stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as young cops Schmidt and Jenko, respectively. Schmidt was incredibly unpopular in high school, while Jenko was the popular football player. The two reunite at the police academy where they decide to help each other with the part of police training that they excel in (Jenko's good with the physical stuff, Schmidt is more book smart). Eventually, the two graduate and work as cops at a park. After screwing up their first arrest, Schmidt and Jenko are sent to 21 Jump Street, which is now being used as an undercover program to bring down high school drug rings.
Schmidt and Jenko are then sent back to high school to contain a new synthetic drug that has caused the death of one student. Schmidt immediately becomes one of the popular kids, befriending Eric and Molly (Dave Franco and Brie Larson) who might just be the drug dealers he's going after. Jenko, on the other hand, fits in better with the nerds. Schmidt and Jenko fight and it all culminates in a massive showdown between the drug gang and the undercover cops at the prom.
21 Jump Street is considered by many to be one of the funniest comedies in recent years. I have a lot of friends who just think that this movie is awesome. And I ended up having fun with this movie. 21 Jump Street is a funny film that has a strong ending and an awesome start, but also long stretches where it's not that funny. Lord and Miller are extremely creative guys, but I can still feel that they were trying to find their way in this movie. The madcap insanity that they are now known for is still developing here. The flashes of creativity and hilarity are there, but the film is just still stuck in the trappings of a sometimes tedious buddy cop comedy.
Lord and Miller directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The LEGO Movie in addition to this film, and I can't help but think that their talents are better suited for animation. They're good directors and they add a lot to 21 Jump Street, but what they can do with animated movies is amazing. I really hope that they do an R-rated animated comedy someday. That is something that I would pay to see. But like I said, their innovative, creative touches often elevate 21 Jump Street to another level. They do have some help from Hill and Tatum, but I definitely think that this film is better than your average buddy cop movie because of Lord and Miller.
Of course, Hill and Tatum are brilliant in the film as well. Although the conflict while the two are in school is one of the more tedious parts of the movie, they're very funny actors who can do a lot with the material. The screenplay by Michael Bacall is perfect for them and Tatum was especially impressive. The two actors have great chemistry together and are able to do a lot of funny stuff. The supporting cast is also pretty strong. Dave Franco has been funnier in other stuff, but he's still pretty decent here. Rob Riggle is great as the off-kilter gym teacher and Ice Cube is a perfect fit for the role of the angry sergeant.
The action scenes are quite spectacular. They're well-filmed, well-choreographed and actually mildly suspenseful. Lord and Miller are at their best when the jokes hit quickly and the action is moving fast, which is why the third act of this movie is so insanely great. The fast pace works so well in this movie and it's when the movie slows down that it becomes somewhat dull.
The problem that I have with this movie lies in the middle section of the film. For the first act, the odd-couple stuff works great and the directing is on point. The high school stuff is really cliched though. It's a fairly typical buddy cop movie by the second act and it's only when the action ratchets up in the third act that 21 Jump Street regains some of what it lost.
In the end, I liked 21 Jump Street, but I didn't love it. It's a movie that's fun to watch, but not that memorable and it certainly isn't Lord and Miller's best work yet. 22 Jump Street looks to be a lot of fun, so I'm still very hopeful for that movie, even though I was slightly disappointed by 21 Jump Street. Tatum and Hill are great and if Lord and Miller can make sure that the unlimited imagination that they apply to their animated movies applies to their R-rated comedies as well, I think that 22 Jump Street will be just fine. But for now, I just simply enjoyed 21 Jump Street for what it was. It's a good buddy cop movie and nothing more.
THE FINAL GRADE: B (7.1/10)