Back in 2005 in high school, two schoolboys had no inkling that they would ever find their paths crossing in later life. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was a nerd who couldn't get a date to the prom, while Jenko (Channing Tatum) was a jock who was all set to attend when the Principal informed him he had done so badly in his studies that he wasn't allowed. This hit them both pretty hard, but they thought they had put their schooldays behind them until they recognised one another at the Police Academy a while later and against the odds became friends...
As you can guess from that set-up we were in mismatched cops territory for the umpteenth time, a genre that had offered comedy and thrills, or that was the idea, for decades, so what was so new about this example? Add to that the fact it was yet another revival of an old television series in movie form, and the signs were not good, even if 21 Jump Street had been the show that made a star of Johnny Depp the notion of bringing back a premise that was pretty idiotic at the time - young-looking cops go undercover in a school - still failed to gladden the heart, even if it was a comedy: the underwhelming Starsky & Hutch had relied solely on mild "the 70s=hilarious" quips, for example.
Yet early on when our heroes' commanding officer tells them this is what they're doing, he makes reference to this being the kind of shit that gets recycled by the powers that be where they hope that most people are to stupid to notice what they're being sold, and you sat up and took notice: it was very brave of a movie already on shaky ground to point out the flimsiness of their production. Where this could have led was an endlessly self-deprecating effort which determined to get the first strikes in against itself, something that could have worn thin fairly quickly, but there was more to this than sending up a potentially embarrassing scenario from the 21st Century view.
Although only seven years have passed since Schmidt and Jenko have attended school, it seems a lot has changed; Jenko thinks he knows the ropes because he enjoyed being one of the top dogs in the social strata in his teen years, but it turns out everyone is far more politically correct now, if being politically correct means you don't go around punching people in the face. Therefore the whole "back to school" thing is indeed a learning process for both officers, who have yet to make a proper arrest in their careers, becoming more than trying to pass muster in a chemistry class, and they begin to realise things about getting by in life which they had not twigged to before. Things like, you know what? Having a best friend is really important, and other such sincerity-drenched messages such as that.
But just as you're concerned things might get serious as Schmidt is welcomed into the cool kids' clique and Jenko winds up with the nerds, which is unimaginable to him, along comes another joke which rescues the movie and plays up the essential absurdity of the whole idea - though they mean it about the male bonding. Gags like the two undercover cops having to try the drugs they're meant to be investigating and freaking out accordingly may be obvious, but they did enough with them to offer a steady stream of laughter, and the way in which each of them start to get really involved with school life is both a neat commentary on how all-encompassing it can be and a source of a wealth of ridiculous humour as for example Schmidt ends up cast as Peter Pan in the school play. That humour could also be pretty near the knuckle, and there were some unanswered questions about Schmidt's tentative romance with student Brie Larson, but you want to see these losers succeed, for their own good as well as those they're serving and protecting. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh.