CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: 21 JUMP STREET (2012)
By L.L. Soares
LS (to audience): Oh, there you are. I was wondering when you’d get here. They sent me to the principal’s office again. Can you believe it? If this keeps happening, they’re going to blow my cover as an undercover cop. And I can’t find Michael anywhere. I’m starting to wonder what happened to him. I hope the bad guys didn’t discover he was a cop and do something awful to him. (laughs)
Well, while we’re waiting for Arruda to show up, I might as well review the new Jonah Hill comedy, 21 JUMP STREET. I have to admit, I wasn’t planning to go see this one. If you read our monthly CKF COMING ATTRACTIONS column, then you know we were planning to take this weekend off and review a DVD instead. But I started hearing some very positive things about this movie—and what the hell, we needed the content—so I decided to check it out. I think I’m flying solo this time.
(LS checks his cell phone and makes a call)
LS: He won’t answer his phone or return my text messages. I wonder what happened to him. Oh well, might as well get to the review.
I don’t know how many people reading this remember the TV show 21 JUMP STREET, which aired for five seasons from 1987 – 1991. It was on FOX back when that network was just starting out, and the cast included Holly Robinson Pete, Peter DeLuise, and a guy named Johnny Depp, who went on to become a big star. Some of the old cast members make cameo appearances in the new movie, including a pretty funny scene toward the end.
The show was about cops who looked young enough to go undercover in high schools and bust drug dealers and stuff. I think I watched it just one time, and I didn’t like it all that much. So when I heard they were making a movie out of this old show, I wasn’t all that excited. And then, when I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it didn’t look very funny at all. I really wanted to just skip this one and call it a day.
But I ended up seeing it, so I might as well give you the details.
The movie version begins with two guys named Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) going to the police academy. Turns out these two guys know each other from high school five years earlier. Schmidt was some nerdy guy who dyed his hair blond like Eminem, and Jenko was the big stupid jock who bullied him on a regular basis. But, while trying to graduate from the academy, they learn something about each other. Jenko is great at the physical aspects of becoming a cop, and Schmidt aces every test. So they decide to help each other out and bury the hatchet. Not only do they both graduate, but they also become buddies and partners on the beat.
Their first job is patrolling a park on bicycles. The life of a cop is nothing like they’d seen in the movies, and they’re bored out of their minds. They want to see some serious action. When they arrest a biker guy for drugs one day, they blow the whole thing by not reading the guy his Miranda rights (Jenko can’t even remember what the words are). But instead of getting fired, their boss, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) transfers them to an undercover unit that meets at an abandoned church with the address of 21 Jump Street. As Hardy tells them, his bosses aren’t very creative and they only decided to start the Jump Street unit up again because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. This is one of several jokes that show the movie is very self-aware, and pokes fun at itself for being the movie version of a TV show.
When they get to Jump Street, Schmidt and Jenko find a bunch of other misfits sitting in the pews, and an angry Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) giving everyone hell. He doesn’t seem too happy with the quality of cops he’s got for his little project. He immediately sees Schmidt and Jenko as a couple of morons, but he sends them to a local high school anyway to crack a drug ring. Seems someone is selling kids a new LSD-type drug called HFS (the letters make sense if you see the movie) and one kid who posted a video of his high on YouTube (which is kind of funny) dies from it.
This is where similarities between the movie and the TV show end. This is a comedy, after all. Schmidt and Jenko show up at the school with new identities—they are now brothers Doug and Brad—and are intent on infiltrating the drug ring and bust the dealer and the supplier. To do this, they have to get in with the “cool” kids. But high school has changed a lot since Schmidt and Jenko were last there. Back then, Jenko was the popular jock and Schmidt was a loser. This time around, the nerdy, smart kids are the cool ones, and Schmidt gets to be the popular one of the duo.
There aren’t a lot of really big surprises in 21 JUMP STREET, but I did find it funnier than I expected it to be. A lot of this is because of the chemistry between Hill and Tatum. These two guys are believable as buddies, and they play well off of each other. The script by Michael Bacall (based on a concept by him and Jonah Hill) was also a bit smarter than I was expecting. When Hill’s character finds out that his job will be to go back to high school, he doesn’t just jump right in. He almost has a panic attack. High school was horrible for him—he doesn’t want to do it all over again! And Tatum’s character, who was cock-of-the-walk to first time he was in high school, is baffled about how much things have changed in the pecking order since he was a kid.
Hill has come a long way since movies like ACCEPTED (2006) and SUPERBAD (2007) and it’s not just because he was nominated for an Oscar for his remarkable performance in last year’s MONEYBALL. He’s just become a smart, go-to comedian who isn’t always in good movies, but who at least tries to make the movies he is in, better. Tatum has seemed on the verge of becoming a big star for a while now, but he can’t seem to find the perfect fit when it comes to roles. I thought he made some interesting choices earlier in his career, in movies like 2009’s FIGHTING, but lately he’s been appearing in a lot of romantic tearjerkers like DEAR JOHN (2010) and THE VOW, which came out earlier this year. The romantic movies have done well for him, but he just isn’t the household name yet everyone expected him to be. It’s interesting to see him in a comedy, and he has more comic potential than I would have thought. Of course, having Hill to play off of doesn’t hurt. But Tatum holds his own here just fine. The two of them actually make a pretty good team.
(A KID walks by and stops)
KID: Hey Mister, why are you waiting outside the principal’s office? Are you a parent?
LS: Of course not! I’m a kid, just like you. I got busted by Mr. Hillerman! Damn, I might even get expelled?
(KID looks at him strangely)
KID: How are you in Mr. Hillerman’s class? You look like a 40-year-old man.
LS: I stayed back a lot. Now get out of here kid, I’m busy.
KID: And you’ve got some gray in your beard.
LS: I think I hear your mother calling you, twerp (pushes kid away).
Where was I? Oh yeah, the supporting cast does a good job, too, including Brie Larson (who some of you may remember as Envy Adams in 2010’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) as Molly, a girl who Schmidt falls for, and Dave Franco (who we saw last year in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT) as Eric, the guy who is supplying the new designer drug to the kids at school. And Rob Riggle is pretty funny as the goofy gym teacher, Mr. Walters. I especially liked the scene where Schmidt and Jenko have to take the HFS drug during school to prove they’re not cops, and get stopped in the hall by Mr. Walters—and begin to have all kinds of crazy hallucinations while they talk to him.
I also liked Ellie Kemper (who was also in last year’s BRIDESMAIDS) a lot as Ms. Griggs, the chemistry teacher who gets all nervous and flustered around Jenko, who she clearly has a thing for. I actually wish she had been in the movie more. And the always funny Chris Parnell (from such shows as SUBURGATORY, 30 ROCK and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) is pretty funny as a pretentious drama teacher.
There are scenes you know are bound to happen, like when Schmidt ant Jenko have a house party to win the other kids over, and buy lots of booze (and steal weed from the police station’s evidence room) to get the other kids to like them. This part of the movie is nowhere near as outrageous as the similarly themed PROJECT X that we reviewed here a couple of weeks ago, but it’s funny enough.
It took two guys to direct this one—Phil Lord and Chris Miller—but they do a decent enough job. Not everything works, though. The bad guys are especially lame: a handful of tattooed biker dudes who keep showing up over and over again (when we first see them, they’re the guys Schmidt and Jenko try to arrest to get off of their bicycle beat, and they’re involved in the designer drug storyline, too). For biker dudes, they don’t seem all that scary, and are there really just five guys in their gang? I think a much stronger (and scarier) bad guy would have helped this movie a lot.
Going in to 21 JUMP STREET, I had zero expectations. I simply thought it was going to suck. The movie is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it was at least better than I expected, and provided a few laugh-out-loud moments, always a good sign in a comedy. And Tatum and Hill are very likable as two buddies trying to make a name for themselves on the police force.
(The door opens and the Principal’s SECRETARY comes out)
SECRETARY: The Principal will see you now.
LS: Oh no, I bet I’m in big trouble.
SECRETARY: Are you sure you attend this school, sir? You seem a little old.
LS: Old? No, I just have very hyperactive hormones.
SECRETARY: Whatever. Just this way.
(She leads him to another door, and LS goes inside, to see MICHAEL ARRUDA sitting behind a desk)
LS: You’re the principal here?
MA: I had to find some way to get into the column this week, didn’t I? Since I didn’t have a chance to see the movie. So what did you end up thinking of 21 JUMP STREET?
LS: I give 21 JUMP STREET ~ two and a half knives. Not a must-see movie in theaters, but maybe worth seeing at a matinee, or waiting for it to come out on DVD so you can rent it.
MA: Doesn’t sound like I missed out on too much.
LS: So what do we do now? I’m done with my review.
MA (raises his voice): Well, I’m going to have to expel you, young man, to make an example out of you. I will not tolerate such behavior in my school.
LS (laughs): That’s hilarious. They’re really going to think you’re the principal here.
MA (pushes a buzzer on his phone): Send in security.
(Two THUGS enter the room and each grab one of LS’s arms)
LS: What’s going on here?
MA: I am having you escorted off of school property, and don’t you dare come back.
LS: This is a joke, right?
(The THUGS force LS outside and throw him out onto the parking lot)
MA: I don’t believe it. I finally got the upper hand this time, and I didn’t even have to review this week’s movie. (laughs)
(MA presses the buzzer on his phone again)
MA: Please hold all my calls, Mrs. Wetherbee.
(MA stretches out on his fancy office chair and takes a nap).
-THE END –
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
L.L. Soares gives 21 JUMP STREET~ two and a half knives!