Now, he makes a successful return to the comedy genre with Columbia Pictures' “21 Jump Street,” an R-13-rated movie that took Hollywood box office by storm.
In the film, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were enemies in high school who became unlikely friends in Police Academy. While they may not be the best cops on the beat, they have a chance to turn it around when they join the police department's secret Jump Street unit, run by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). They trade in their guns and badges for backpacks and use their youthful appearances to go undercover...in high school!
Jonah Hill's character, Schmidt, is a onetime nerd who finds himself suddenly cool for the first time in his life. “It’s one of the more interesting characters I’ve played,” says the actor. “He just wants to be a good cop, but he has insecurities that date all the way back to high school. When he gets sent back to high school, undercover, he gets drunk with power, forgets about police work, forgets about his friendship with Jenko. He likes living this fake high school life – better than the life he has as a guy in his mid-20s.” So in essence it’s the story of a guy who gets lost in his moment in the sun.
Hill, who's also credited as executive producer of “21 Jump Street,” says that the film started with a simple question: "What would it be like to relieve the most important time period of your youth... high school. You think you have all the answers that you didn't have then, but then you get back there and realize those answers are all wrong. You then immediately revert back to the insecurities and problems you had when you were seventeen."
Hill wrote the story with Michael Bacall, who wrote the screenplay. “At first, nothing goes as planned for the characters. These guys treat it like wish fulfillment – ‘Oh, if I only knew then what I know now,’” Bacall explains. “But all of the information that they have no longer applies. Jenko – who was always the cool kid back then – falls in with the nerds, and Schmidt – the nerdier of the two – falls in with the cool crowd. It’s a total role reversal.”
According to Hill, the fact that the show has been off the air for a generation worked to their advantage in devising the story and the tone. “I’ll meet teenagers and I’ll ask them if they know the series – they don’t,” he says. “So I tell them it’s about young-looking cops who go undercover in a high school, and they say, ‘That sounds awesome.’ It’s such a great premise for an action-comedy.”