To say that 21 Jump Street is far better than one could anticipate is a gross understatement. The notion of a reconceptualization of the 80s series seemed harebrained at first glance and was certainly not one to get excited about. Knowing virtually nothing about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs--and therefore nothing about the directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller--past the fact that it was a children's movie, it was hard to imagine this film being funny in any way past the most safe and saccharine way, even after seeing the trailers that at least pointed to a movie that might be all right. These expectations were way off.
Perhaps the most shocking thing of the whole endeavor is that Channing Tatum was unbelievably funny. I never thought the words "Channing Tatum was really great" would come out of my mouth, but sure enough when exiting the theater I couldn't help but utter those words. While hearing that Jonah Hill was pretty damn funny wouldn't shock the average person, Tatum was a revelation. Upon having been freed from roles calling for him to either dance or be a Roman centurion, he spreads his wings with aplomb. This isn't like his hosting SNL, which may have been all right (who actually watches fucking Saturday Night Live to be able to say whether he was or not?) but couldn't have been fantastic largely because there's no way the material is good enough to distinguish Tatum as a comedic talent. Along with his partner in crime [stopping] Hill, the success of an entire film and possible franchise lie on his comedic skills, and it is his chemistry with Hill makes the film. Tatum's work on Greg Jenko's transformation from cool jock to science nerd is as awesome as Daniel Desario's dabbling in Dungeons & Dragons at the end of Freaks and Geeks.
Any doubts one has heading into the film should be more or less instantly assuaged with the joke that Hill's character Morton Schmidt is made up to look exactly like Eminem in 2005. The laughs start at the onset of 21 Jump Street and come hard and fast from that point on. The screenplay--credited to Michael Bacall but which also saw Jonah Hill, Joe Gazzam, and Alias scribes Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum taking a stab at things--is consistently smart and more importantly relentlessly hilarious. Despite all the cooks in the kitchen, 21 Jump Street is spectacularly funny and seems to be driven by a unified vision. Its gags are crisp, its playing up and against genre conventions is done with equal parts affection and self-awareness, and its blend of comedy and action are exceptionally well-executed.
In short, 21 Jump Street is one of the funniest films in recent memory. That this is such a surprise is all the better.
Fuck you, science.