The 21 Jump Street television show existed to combine two things that everybody likes: cop stories and young, hot actors/actresses. If memory serves, it wasn't much more than that. Now our visual landscape is saturated with police procedurals starring people who are easy on the eyes--and the genre is so exhausted that some of them are psychics or talk to dead people. Because of this, I was less than excited to see this big-screen version of the '80s show. But 21 Jump Street beats you to the punch by calling itself out for being recycled and ridiculous, and then proceeds to be one of the most surprising comedies since The Hangover. There are a few simple reasons that it works.
Most importantly, it acknowledges how lame reboots are by nature, and how rarely they honor the original. Although I don't want to reveal any of the good stuff in the plot (and there's plenty more than the trailer suggests), the movie borrows the wafer-thin premise of the show and that's about it. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are two rookie cops who get assigned into an undercover detective project to bust up a drug ring in a high school, and who better to throw some shade than Parks and Rec's Nick Offerman as the underwhelmed police chief? Past that lies some sharp comedy chops on everyone's part.
Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the gentlemen responsible for Clone High and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which were both also surprisingly good TV shows and films that came out of nowhere to delight us. They expertly navigate these self-aware comedic waters, bringing out the best in actors like Ice Cube as a surly police captain and Brie Larson as the sweet girl next door. Hill and Tatum as unlikely cop partners feels as fresh as it did when Eddie Murphy was doing it with Judge Reinhold. That's quite an achievement these days.
It works so well because it's about more than just two cops getting the bad guys. Hill and Tatum are getting a do-over, and as they relive high school they learn that even though their experiences shape who they are, it isn't set in stone. Although it's not the most unusual plot, it's still everything I needed it to be--and Channing Tatum looks hilarious in long hair. Thanks, Hollywood.