In high school, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was barely noticed and Jenko (Channing Tatum) was king jock. With graduation eight years behind them, both Schmidt and Jenko find themselves in line to become police officers. Getting over hating each other in high school, the pair help each other through the academy and set about starting their dream of being BAMFs. That fantasy, however, is quickly jettisoned as they end up partners riding bicycles in the city park.
The popular misconception about 21 Jump Street is that it would just be a cash-in on a brand with market recognition. If the announcement that Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall were writing the screenplay didn't ease those fears, then the film's total self-awareness will do so immediately. Actually, self-aware doesn't even begin to do the film justice. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, bring a verve of cartoon zaniness that keeps the film from being just another buddy cop movie.
Take for example this scene where Schmidt and Jenko are reprimanded for not reading a suspect his Miranda rights. Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) gives up on the duo and refers them to another program. "We're reviving a canceled undercover police program from the 80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice."
This unit is headed by Captain Dickson (a very angry Ice Cube), who is well aware that he is the angry captain, but he worked hard to get there, so deal with it. Schmidt and Jenko are assigned to act undercover at a local high school and infiltrate the organization passing out designer drugs.
What a difference time makes, while Jenko may have been popular then, he isn't concerned enough about the environment to pass the smell test this time. Schmidt is psyched to find out that not only is he cool, but he can also get the girl (Brie Larson).
The laughs in 21 Jump Street are fast and frequent with Hill and Tatum playing off each other extremely well. Schmidt and Jenko wind up being closer than partners, and more like brothers and that heart drives the film. They are assisted by a very game supporting cast (Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Nick Offerman, Ellie Kemper, Chris Parnell and Ice Cube).
Interestingly, the picture also has the potential to be Channing Tatum's breakthrough role. What makes this Tatum's big role was that we always knew he could play the jock with more heart than brains, but this time he played the role with a sense of humor about himself. That he can bounce off co-star Jonah Hill so well reflects his burgeoning status as a comedic star.