Some of you will remember the 1980s TV show “21 Jump Street”, which molded Johnny Depp into a cultural phenomenon as the cool twenty-something cop who went undercover in high schools for juvenile criminal busts.
The show, like most ‘80s TV dramas, was pumped with cheesy melodrama and exaggerated American valor; it took itself much too seriously and still gathered a huge fan base.
The contemporary “21 Jump Street,” however, separates itself from the TV show’s dramatic content and only adopts its ideas and plot points to form a goofy comedy with crude jokes that abundantly utilize the F-word and the male reproductive organ. This is, in fact, the right decision as opposed to mot-a-mot mimicking the original series.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as the protagonists Schmidt and Jenko, two completely opposite characters who seven years ago went to the same high school. Schmidt was the sensitive, brainy nerd with braces who couldn’t talk to girls, and Jenko was the high school jock whose emotional intelligence, along with his IQ, was at rock bottom. They both enter the police academy with aspirations of achievement and surprisingly develop a close friendship in which they complete each other. Schmidt assists Jenko with the exams and Jenko assists Schmidt with the physical training.
Their first mission as partners, unsatisfying to their virile accomplishment fantasies, is as bicycle patrollers around a lake. No offense to the real bicycle police, but this duo looks ridiculous on their wheels, especially considering Jenko’s Spartacus-like body in skin-tight shorts and Schmidt’s neurotic legs cycling like a 5-year-old. It isn’t long before they get transferred to the special undercover unit “21 Jump Street” run by the tough captain Dickinson (Ice Cube), a department that has a special quota for fumbling idiotic cops who look young enough to be high school students.
Jenko and Schmidt enroll as brothers into a public high school in order to investigate the origins of a new lethal drug. This investigation, though, is only an excuse to observe the new norms and dynamics of the contemporary high school scene. Jenko thinks he’s going to have an easy time since he used to be a jock, and Schmidt is terrified to death since his experience seven years ago was that of a misfit. Honestly, this is a great premise for comedy, since probably a lot of people themselves are terrified of regressing back to those years of pubescent emotions and fears. Oh but surprise, the new world order is in full throttle -- suddenly it is the sensitive Schmidt who becomes the popular kid of the environmentalist and intellectual mumblecore hipster era! One of the characters even comments on this situation: “Blame it all on the TV show ‘Glee!’ Jenko is kicked aside as the Quasimodo that is far behind the Zeitgeist and then accidentally ends up in an advanced chemistry class.
The situation allows our protagonists to grow and discover themselves; Jenko turns out to be not such an idiot after all with the help of his new chemistry class friends and Schmidt might realize that being “popular” comes with the burden of being a selfish elitist. There are some hilarious sequences as we watch these two men-children re-experience their teenage years as they try to withhold their adult urges.
As in all Hollywood action-comedies we are pumped up with several boring and pointless action scenes that have become a must for the formula to gather the 18-25-year-old target audience. And let’s be honest, you won’t enjoy this film unless you have a tolerance for fart jokes and a fondness for male buddy dynamics. Nevertheless, the acting is superb for this genre; Jonah Hill has a wide range of mannerisms and emotions to work from as the articulate but nervous nice guy and Channing Tatum unexpectedly delivers a natural lenience for comedy through his body movements and deadpan expressions. Furthermore, the two exude great chemistry, which is a surmountable advantage for such a light-headed film.
To be exact, the final sequence of the film borders on gross-out comedy, which can make some viewers cringe. Nevertheless, “21 Jump Street” offers fairly sharp-witted, inventive and well-timed humor that will entertain duly in these hot summer days.
‘21 Jump Street’
Directed by: Phil Lord,
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum,
Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Johnny Depp