I laughed a few times through the amiable 21 Jump Street. As Jenko, the ostensible jock cop, that huge, awkward palooka “Channing Tatum” (it can’t be his name), who moves like he can’t believe God gave him this body, proves himself master of fifty ways to act dumb while playing smart (life is a long double take for Tatum). Jonah Hill, leaner and as a result looking as if wrapped in sausage casing, plays a variant on his vulgar motormouth archetype, less successfully; I don’t know whether Moneyball encouraged him To Play It Subtle. There’s even a party scene better than the one in Project X!
The worn conceit of this post-Apatow buddy movie is that the characters make no pretense about hiding how much they prefer each other’s company to anyone else’s. Women are discussed — like sports or Fred Savage in “The Wonder Years” — not pursued. When Jonah Hill asks Tatum to the prom the packed audience murmured “Aww…” Most American film comedy depends on tonal imbalance but it’s more obvious these days as previous targets of ridicule — gays, blacks, the handicapped — become the subjects of movies, an idea that 21 Jump Street plays with: for example Tatum has no clue how to navigate through a teenage world in which a gay black guy is one of the cool kids (and the genuinely weird Dave Franco, brother of James, as ringleader); or the presence of a glowering Ice Cube playing Ice Cube in N.W.A. Despite validating their interests, the filmmakers still use the Asian kid and black girl as comic semaphore; we’re supposed to think they’re funny because they are, that’s all. Filled with harmless dick jokes and not-quite-uneasy fag baiting, 21 Jump Street depicts a seminal moment in male sexual politics. It might even be the next moment.