21 Jump Street the movie doesn’t try to recreate the police procedural drama of the 80s. Instead of giving viewers another overdone Will Ferrell remake, that’s more spoof than homage, the movie embraces the stereotypes of the past with self-referential humor. The meta style is abundantly clear in an opening monologue from Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman. As the police chief, he tells Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum that the two will be a part of a cancelled 80s police program that needs work because all they do is “recycle old ideas.”
In the opening sequence, the movie establishes Rat Pack clichés worthy of The Breakfast Club. Hill is a blond-haired, Eminem wannabe. Tatum is the jock that makes fun of him. Instead of dwelling on these stereotypes, the film tosses them way without remorse. At a police test, which Tatum can’t pass to save his life, Tatum asks Hill if he wants to be friends. Hill says yes, and that’s the end of that. Now, it’s time to let the world know that all those historic stereotypes were ridiculous. Enter Ice Cube as the cliché angry black man, and leader of the 21 Jump Street team. Ice Cube lets us know that stereotypes are okay when you’re undercover so live with it. Meta reference accepted – keep it moving. Cube sends Tatum and Hill undercover into a high school. Hill will be the nerd and Tatum the dumb jock. Unfortunately, things go wrong in a Class Act sort of way. But, where are Kid ‘n Play when you need them?
Thankfully, identities don’t mean anything in the present day of 80s opposites. Eating granola, saving mother earth and being a gay black guy are all in fashion. Tatum is not. The jokes tend to get silly at times, especially when Rob Riggle gets on camera. However, Hill’s sincerity wins out. He wants to relive his high school days as a popular kid, one that doesn’t get rejected from the prom. Tatum has to rediscover himself in a world where he’s the odd man out and he’s fine with that. The plot may be as cookie cutter as they come, but the joy in this film comes from the relationships that expose cliché 80s archetypes.
While stereotypes are abundant, the humor is in how well each character has been scripted into his or her stereotype. Hill wrote the script with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World scribe Michael Bacall. The two did an excellent job of showing nuance within the cliché. Add on top of that an endearing bromance between Hill and Tatum and you’ve got one of the more comedic and well done adapted films of the modern era. It’s also got franchise written on it.