The opening scene: Jonah Hill looks like Slim Shady. And it's 2005. Maybe if it was 2001, we would understand. But, 2005? That's doubly lame because it's on the tail-end of the Eminem phenomenon (that silly Encore album was already out). Then he's asking out the hot, hot, girl-next-door girl to prom. She denies the shit out of him, as Tatum commentates on the scene, laughing and taunting Hill. The Cool Kid is picking on the Nerd.
When Hill and Tatum go back to high school, their roles reverse. And the characters' reactions to this causes the emotional tension of the film. As Hill and Tatum are fighting on-stage during the performance of Peter Pan, Hill says something like "I spent four years being uncool! You couldn't handle it for five minutes!"
Tatum does not react well to not being the cool kid. He knows he isn't smart, but he was cool. The coolness made him feel good enough about himself. During high school round 2, when he isn't cool, this is how he views himself: an idiot loser. He's not even a Nerd. At least Nerds are smart.
But. The Nerds adopt him. Just as the Cool Kids have accepted Hill.
What we see from one group is empathy, a banding together in order to stifle suffering and ostricization.
What we see from the other group is respect. Hill with his actions, has earned the respect of the Cool Kids.
For the middle section of the movie, Hill is pulled deeper into the Cool Kid circle, while Tatum seeks solace from the Nerds.
We think the two stories will dove-tail at prom. That if the Cool Kids are in the role of antagonist (since they're selling the drugs and causing the conflict of the plot) then the Nerds will play the role of Sidekick. This is foreshadowed earlier in the movie when the Nerds help Tatum hack Little James Franco's phone. We think it's confirmed when the Nerds exit the limo with Hill and Tatum, girls on their arms (call girls?), doves flying around them, each in rebellious prom attire. Yes, the Nerds will have some sort of role in the conclusion.
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writers: Jonah Hill, Michael Bacall
Jonah Hill: Jonah Hill
Channing Tatum: Channing Tatum
James Franco: Little James Franco (OH SHIT HE WAS GREG IN SUPERBAD)
Quirky Blonde: Brie Larson
Ice Cube: Ice Cube
Douchy Gym Teacher: Rob Riggle
Sweet cameo: Johnny Depp
I guess he was also in the original show: Peter DeLuise
Looks NOTHING like his Project X character: Dax Flame
Played Jesus in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, is the principal here: Jake Johnson
Cracks me up: Ellie Kemper
Drug Dealer Head, really inaccurate with semi-auto: DeRay Davis
The movie sort of...forgets about the Nerds. Which is hilarious to me.
This movie is so...by the numbers. Plot-wise, it's simplistic. I'd give it a 5/10. Hilarity-wise, 9/10, 10/10.
I mean: the guys at the beginning of the movie turn out to be the bad guys at the end of the movie. A character we've already met ends up being the supplier. Of course Hill and Tatum are going to having a falling out before the climax of the movie. Of course they're going to get back together during the climax. THE CLIMAX OCCURS AT PROM!!! (Not a pun). Hill and Tatum reverse roles (Nerd becomes Cool; Cool Kid becomes Nerd). Ice Cube warns them not to get expelled...Of course they're going to...
I think most of us, within 15 minutes, could have predicted the course of the movie (not the specifics, but the general rhythms).
Just when it seems like all hope is lost, what happens? Tatum uses science to defeat the bad guys. What he's learned along the way proves essential to the conclusion of the plot. It cliche as shit. But I think it works because of how it's executed, which is true of the entire movie, it's so insane, so satirical, that it works. It's mocking the cliches. It's cliche for a reason.
But what about the Nerds?
During prom, the Nerds are in some room (I don't remember being given an establishing shot), with their girls (call girls?) listening to Little James Franco's wire-tapped phone. They can hear the exchange going on in the hotel room. The gun shots. We even have a shot of them reacting to the fire fight.
Given how cliche and predictable the rest of the plot is, if you watch movies, if you watch TV shows, you're probably thinking: okay, now the Nerds will do something that proves crucial, thus showing Nerds are clutch, that they may not be Cool, but they bring to the table their own bag of talents and abilities, so are, in their own way, really cool.
In other words: you're expecting a movie that is cliche and predictable in its plot action to be equally as cliche and predictable in its thematic conclusion.
The Nerds are abandoned. Completely.
The figurehead of the Cool Kids, Little James Franco is arrested.
Dax Flame, the lead Nerd? No resolution.
The climax of the Nerd plot is Tatum using science to defeat the bad guys. Which is an entirely different message than "Nerds are, in their own way, really cool." Why? Despite having fit in with the Nerds and given the ridiculous chemical compound poem in front of the AP Chemistry class, Tatum doesn't consider himself a Nerd (he doesn't even finish the poem). The message, then, is: Nerd knowledge can come in handy for All of Us, no matter how you define yourself. We're not being shown how cool Nerds are, what we're seeing is how clutch Science is.
It could be that writers Hill (the very one) and Bacall did this on purpose. We saw in the opening of the movie that Nerds are to be mocked or ignored by Cool Kids. This repeats when Tatum and Hill return to high school. Hill is cool, Tatum a Nerd. Hill mocks and ignores Tatum. Hill, who was a Nerd, who should empathize with Tatum and Tatum's feelings, abandons his friend. He becomes what he once hated. And loves it, giggling at his computer when Little James Franco sends him messages, flirting with Molly (Brie Larson). The minute Cool Kids accepted Hill, he abandoned the Nerds. The minute the undercover plot is over, when Hill's and Tatum's cover is blown by a 4th Phase Molly, Tatum can drop being Brad, is no longer a Nerd-in-training. Neither Tatum nor Hill are Nerds at this point. They're cops. Thus, the film also abandons the Nerds. It's moving on to cooler things (sweet cameos, gun fight, limo chase, Science-induced explosions, cock shooting).
If this is on purpose: that's some fucking display of subtly and craftsmanship. I'm amused and impressed.
If this was not on purpose, if Hill and Bacall just...forgot about the Dax Flame and the Nerds, I think it's awesome. It's so fitting. (Not in real life, but in terms of the movie's world).
Either way, I don't think of the lack of resolution for the Nerds as a structural problem. If it's on purpose, it's satirical. "Who cares what happens to them, ain't that right???"
If it's unconscious, it's indicative of the mindset that once you have an opportunity to be cool, when you weren't cool before, you seize it. Which is another cliche we see in movies and TV shows all the time, where the kid who wasn't cool becomes cool and "forgets who they were" and makes their "true friends" feel bad and must win them back (see Mean Girls). Except 21 Jump Street is sort of validating the fact that being cool is awesome, and fun, and makes you feel good about yourself, and gets you girls, and the only real downside is that your Cool Friends could look down on other people, people you care about, but, whatever.
Regardless, the main plot still works. And I think this Lack of Nerd Resolution is one of the few structural aspects of the movie that merits discussion. Had the film given us a conclusion to the Nerd characters, it'd have pretty much followed Screenplay 101 protocol to the letter (make everything neat and tidy). The plot IS neat, it IS tidy...except this one thing.
This is where, if I were a regular film critic, I'd make some pun-fueled conclusion like. "I guess 21 Jump Street is too cool to follow the rules."
So why do I think this is hilarious?
Because the movie seems so conscious of the Nerd's Plight. And it sets us up for some Nerdtacular moment. And then just...doesn't do it (like the explosions, but those do happen, this doesn't). To me, it's as though the film itself decides Nerds aren't worth the time. Which, if this were a serious drama or a different type of comedy, I'd be crusading for the unfair treatment of Nerds. But seeing that 21 Jump Street is satire, I'm entertained.
The counter to my argument is that since Hill was the O.N. (Original Nerd), that his arc IS the conclusion of the Nerd arc, that the film didn't forget about Nerds at all and is about Nerd-demption. Dax Flame is what Hill was, so when Flame disappears it's because Hill is back as the L.N (Lead Nerd). I would respond to this counter by saying "Nerd" is a high school moniker. Same as "Cool Kid". One of the things you realize after high school is that people are more than the stereotypes we once assigned them. Look at Hill and Tatum: they became friends after high school because they moved beyond stereotypes. The climax of Hill's story arc isn't him coming to terms with being a Nerd. It's him dealing with confidence issues. The large biker ran him over at the start of the movie and called him a pussy (true statement). He hesitates to shoot Domingo during the freeway chase, so Tatum has to fire the gun for Hill. Hill's problem, as a cop, as an adult, as a person, has nothing to do with being a Nerd or being Cool, it's self-confidence. When he shoots Rob Riggle in the cock, it's because he's found confidence. Inversion again: while undercover, Tatum loses confidence, Hill gains it. When not undercover, Tatum has a ton of confidence, Hill none. Thus, Hill does not conclude the Nerd arc because the Nerd arc is a part of the High School universe and Hill's arc transcends high school by being an individual problem, not a stereotype problem.
The counter to my counter to the counter-argument is that Nerds are Nerds because they lack confidence. But if you make that argument, you're a dick. And people will metaphorically shoot you.
Did I Like It:
Yes. A lot. I was a little startled the plot was so conventional. But I was entertained pretty much every minute. I hadn't been this hopeful for a comedy since Superbad. I wouldn't say it's as good of a movie as Superbad, but in terms of comedy, hell yeah.
I like that Hill and Bacall made fun of remakes early in the movie. Then went so far as to KILL the original character (Depp). In terms of satirizing remakes, Depp's death was quite the symbolic statement. I know it's not entirely a remake since Jump Street was a TV show, but, still, all the same.
I didn't recognize Little James Franco as James Franco's brother. It bothered me the entire time that he looked like someone and I couldn't place it.
Tatum really impressed me. I liked how he was in Haywire. I liked him in this. And, damnit, I liked him in Step Up.
I'm glad this movie exists. Looking forward to the sequel.
I like to think when Hill and Tatum are about to throw the party and say "How are we gonna get beer?" then laugh maniacally because they're old as shit and can buy as much beer as they want that it's a reference to Superbad.
What It's Good For:
-seeing a bunch of character actors do their thing
-if you're going to do a remake, you can just make it awesome
-the traditional plot could be seen as a failure if you don't remember the movie is a satire, even then you can argue it makes the movie predictable
% Character / % Actor's personality or previous roles
Ice Cube: 0/100
Rob Riggle: 0/100
Hill in ridiculous comedy role: Superbad; The Sitter;
Tatum in comedy role: this is a first
Films satirizing things: Bad Teacher; This is Spinal Tap; Dr. Strangelove; Hot Fuzz
Johnny Depp Being Awesome: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl; pretty much everything
Matt Bacall loving high school antics: Project X
Nerds Winning: here's a list
Movies that have made me laugh like this the first time I watched them: The Hangover; Superbad; Waiting