From directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller – previously responsible for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – and screenwriter Michael Bacall – who recently penned the much-panned Project X – comes this super-meta comedy. 21 Jump Street deconstructs its genre, takes the mickey out of movies in general, and provides a lot of laughs along the way.
In what is surely the best buddy-cop movie since The Other Guys, the duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum evolves with a consumate ease, becoming a convincing and endearing partnership. Hill is of course in his comedic element, but Tatum – previously known for vomit-inducing flics like She’s The Man, Step Up and Dear John – steps into the role with a surprising astuteness, one of many actors to have recently made that transition successfully (Mark Wahlberg, The Other Guys. Colin Farrell, In Bruges).
At times, 21 Jump Street feels almost impossibly self-aware. Based on a TV series of the same name that ran in the late 80s, in which Johnny Depp played the lead role, it never stops reminding you that it remembers its premise – a rehash of a commodity that has long since left the public eye. Depp actually makes a very funny cameo, furthering the endlessly meta feel. While the humour operates proficiently on the most basic level, which is efficient but far from overwhelming, it is the self-reflectiveness that makes it stand out from the crowd. In one of the funniest scenes, a police captain criticises his superiors for endlessly rehashing old material rather than creating anything new – a line that proves that the filmmakers are willing to joke about their own craft. It is the film spotlighting the flaws of its premise that works so well, with the irony of this statement only furthering how effectively it goes about its business. Ice Cube turns up to play the ‘angry black police captain’, who refers to himself as the ‘angry black police captain’, a little while later ‘Straight Outta Compton’ makes an appearance on the soundtrack, etc. etc. etc.
The self-awareness certainly has the potential to become repetitive and eventually oppressive, but it is the aforementioned duo that keep it afloat for the entire duration, which clocks in at a little under two hours, relatively long for a comedy. By the end, when the inevitable upbeat conclusion leads to much high-fiving and general bromace, you’ll find yourself thoroughly onside with the two leads, celebrating their success and feeling optimistic about the potential sequel that is deliberately set up in the final moments. Word is that the next instalment has recently been green-lit, with Hill and Michael Bacall already attached, and Tatum hopefully to follow. I, for one, relish the prospect.