Ice Cube, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street.
I groaned when I saw the first trailer for this movie. Another television show remake on the big screen? And a remake of a show most famous, not for itself, but because it launched the career of Johnny Depp? On top of all that, a remake starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, two stars of whom I am not a fan. Hill isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is and Tatum is a six pack of abs pretending to be an actor. Given all that, I suppose it's a wonder that I enjoyed 21 Jump Street as much as I did, which admittedly wasn't that much, but any amount is more than I was expecting.
The original Fox series ran from 1987 to 1991, with the final season being shown in syndication. Those under 25, surely this movie's target audience, won't even have seen it, unless perhaps in reruns or on DVD. Maybe that's why Jonah Hill and the other writers felt free to turn it into a comedy rather than worry about remaining strictly faithful to the series. It does try to have heart along with the comedy, but it's the humor, especially when it's spoofing itself, that provide the best moments.
Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are new police officers. Schmidt isn't in good physical shape, but he's smart, while Jenko is the exact opposite. They decide to team up since their skills compliment each other. Because they supposedly look like high-schoolers they are transferred to 21 Jump Street where a police program is based where Officers infiltrate high schools by posing as students. Schmidt and Jenko's job is track down the source of a new synthetic drug.
Several jokes are made about how little Schmidt and Jenko actually look like teenagers. Those type of self-aware moments are the ones I enjoyed the most. You can't take any of it seriously because the premise is so ridiculous and it is funniest when it shows that the filmmakers are in on the joke. It tries to give the story heart by having Schmidt fall in love and Jenko show some personal growth, but it works best as a spoof.
My biggest complaint about the humor is its over reliance on profanity and crassness. If you find the words dick or penis funny or if jokes about two dudes having sex cracks you up, then you'll probably laugh more than I did. Feel free to call me stuffy if you want to and I'm perfectly willing to admit that there seem to be plenty who do enjoy this sort of humor based on the audience reaction where I watched this, it's just definitely not my preferred style of comedy.
Having said that, there are some funny moments, many caused by role reversal. Schmidt discovers that he is much more popular in high school the second time around while Jenko is the uncool one. Schmidt makes friends with the cool kids, lead by Eric (played by James Franco's real life little brother, Dave), while Jenko ends up befriending the nerdy kids in Chemistry class.
Ice Cube provides some humor in his small part as the Captain of 21 Jump Street who has little respect for the officers underneath him. Ellie Kemper (The Office) also generates some laughs as the teacher with an inappropriate crush on Jenko.
Based on the initial critical reaction and box office success, I can see that I'm in the minority with my opinion regarding this movie. Maybe I'm just getting too old for this shit.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street.
I have to tell you Scott, you do come across a bit like a cranky old guy in your review. The plethora of penis jokes didn't bother me, in fact I think they were a purposeful part of the parody. I am also not normally a fan of either Hill or Tatum, but Schmidt and Jenko could easily turn out to be their signature roles. Hill is quite funny as the nerdy fat kid that suddenly finds himself among the popular crowd, while Tatum is a revelation as the clueless jock with a heart of gold. He has one of the best “dumb” expressions I've ever seen, and I sincerely mean that as a compliment.
This movie is juvenile as hell and not just in its fondness for jokes about male reproductive organs. It is also patently lacking in any sense of reality. But somehow 21 Jump Street is much funnier than it has any right to be. Like the majority of the people in the audience, I found myself laughing harder and more frequently at this movie than I have at any comedy in a long time. I was sitting next to Scott and it's true that he wasn't laughing nearly as much as most everyone else in the theater.
There are some unexpectedly subtle gags here. The opening, for example, shows Schmidt and Jenko as high school seniors back in 2005. Schmidt is shown from behind, sporting close-cropped bleached-blonde hair, dressed like early Eminem, while Em's signature tune “Slim Shady” is heard. Anyone up on their pop culture knows this song was popular around 2000, so the more subtle point being made is that Schmidt (AKA Not-So-Slim Shady) was already 5 years behind the times in high school.
Other funny bits include the Korean Jesus at the church on 21 Jump Street that fronts for their undercover HQ, and a scene where Jenko tells Schmidt that he's “In too deep” because he found a college application on Schmidt's desk yesterday. Hill and Tatum breathe fresh life into the worn-out mismatched buddy cop genre.
As Scott mentioned, the script even manages to interject a bit of heart in the form of a life lesson about what it's like to be a social outcast. Jenko (formerly popular but now hanging out with the science geeks) overhears Schmidt bad mouthing him to the cool kids. He learns firsthand what is was like for all those kids he picked on in high school, while Schmidt gets a taste of how the other half lives and acquires some of the negative traits that come with the territory. Of course the movie never gets heavy or anything and, as I said, it lacks any semblance of reality in the few over-the-top action sequences.
I wasn't a fan of the original series so the cameos by some of the stars from it didn't make much of a difference to me. Johnny Depp does bring a certain cache to any movie but I enjoyed Ice Cube's foul mouthed Captain Dickson more. 21 Jump Street looks like the first breakout live-action hit of 2012.
Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Dave Franco in 21 Jump Street
You may not think it, but Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have much in common. Both are known for their looks, only on opposite sides of the scale. Both do their best work when playing someone struggling for acceptance. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Superbad respectively. Money Ball was a charitable fluke. Seriously, acting nervous around Brad Pitt is not in and of itself Oscar worthy.
Hill and Tatum make a great team, playing up their strengths and weaknesses as actors. Even though he has lost some weight, Hill will still always be the likable loser. Hill acting nervous, such as when he awkwardly asks the girl to prom is a Hill staple. Tatum's good looks come into play when a teacher has conflicted feelings about her attraction to him. Patrick, I never noticed Tatum's “dumb” expressions. I think that is just how he normally looks.
I agree Scott, the self-aware moments are some of the best. They start right from the beginning when the Deputy Chief tells them that nothing is original anymore and everything is just being rehashed. The dick and penis jokes are likewise self-aware. They know they are over doing it. I would not be surprised if some reference to a penis or some guy gets his privates hurt every 10 minutes. Even Ice Cubes character is named Dickson. "You are here because you some Justin Beaver, Miley Cirus lookin' muthas."
I laughed throughout the film but I think some of it's best accomplishments are in the details. Patrick mentioned Slim Shady, but there are plenty of others. When Schmidt goes to Eric's beautiful home, he says it must be nice to not have his parents around much. Eric, looking in a different direction, says it is but his expression tells another story. When Schmidt calls Molly she comments that only old people call her, her friends text. Schmidt and Jenko are only seven years out of school, yet the times have changed so quickly that they are already out dated.
21 Jump Street is a laugh out loud comedy that also successfully creates real, likable characters. It would be easy to dismiss most of these characters as one dimensional, but they take shape as the film proceeds. Jenko and Schmidt come to understand and need each other as they both learn from their experiences. We even come to understand how Eric became such a dick.
I never saw a single episode of the television show, and I do not ever care to. I would however, love to see a sequel. It ends with the possibility of one. As long as the cast, director and writer return, you can count me as one who will be looking forward to it.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (2012)