Dear 21 Jump Street,
The circumstances behind your creation have rightly given some people pause. No one wants another half-baked remake of a “classic” that trades on nothing but snark and cynicism to get winking chuckles from those who are willing to poke fun. A great comedy asks us to invest in characters and events, and draws humor from the ways in which the things we see subvert or pervert our expectations.
Luckily, the people both behind and in front of your camera understand this, and saw your core story elements not as an excuse to play lazy and detached, but to create a commentary about the way in which our culture has changed, and to find new levels of humor to exploit within that idea, and with the boon of an R rating.
The particulars of your story remain largely unchanged and patently familiar. Two comically mismatched rookie cops are recruited into a special task force that takes youthful officers and places them undercover in high school to bust up drug rings, car thieves, and any other teenage miscreants that they happen across. One cop is skilled in the physical mechanics of the job, the other is intelligent but lacks in almost every other regard. They forge an unlikely friendship, butt heads with commanding officers, et cetera, et cetera.
The difference in your story, however, is the shared history that these officers have. They both attended high school together, they both know one another as they were before they donned the uniform. This familiarity, and the parallel it draws with their new assignment, and the way their expectations are turned upside down, form the main dramatic and comedic skeleton of your narrative. Due to this, their ‘bromance’ comes across as real, grounded, and yet unlikely enough to still gain some traction during their comedic exchanges.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are pretty much perfectly cast in their roles, embodying the broadly drawn personas that have been assigned to them, and yet imbuing their characters with enough heart and skill to make them more than just plot-convenient protagonists.
Over-examination is the killer of comedy, so to explain too much related to plot or the way in which the gags work risks aborting the jokes before an audience has a chance to enjoy them. Let me just say, however, that the manner in which you play with genre expectations, and the way that your characters reflect those subversions is obvious, but in keeping with the characters and situations, and thus manages to do a kind of double-summersault over the pitfalls one would expect this kind of meta-commentary to create. The well-deployed vulgarity, physical comedy, and over-the-top side characters only further heighten this artfulness.
So what else is there to say to you? I went in with high expectations given the surprising amount of love my compatriots had heaped on you, and I was not disappointed. You’re a good movie, a funny movie, and one with a hook for a sequel that leaves me excited rather than exasperated. In this day of undying franchises and easy humor, that’s just about the best thing that could be said about you.
You’re a credit to the force,
Brian J. Roan