Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell’s television drama 21 Jump Street was notable for a couple of reasons. First, it aired on the Fox Network for 103 episodes, becoming an early hit for the fledgling broadcasting company. Secondly, it sparked Johnny Depp’s acting career. Now, a cinematic adaptation of the same name has been helmed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who’ve worked on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs together. Strangely enough, it’s been rated R and features a cameo by Depp, who vents his frustrations via cartoony violence.
21 Jump Street follows police force partners, the meat-headed Jenko (Channing Tatum) and smarty-pants Schmidt (Jonah Hill). While they expected nonstop thrills, the two are put on park duty. After a shabby arrest (during which they forget to read the Miranda Rights), their higher-up (played by Nick Offerman) sentences the duo to an undercover unit that has the baby-faced cops infiltrating high schools to stop the flow of drugs. Operating in an old Korean church and led by Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), their first assignment is stopping the flow of a new narcotic called HFS. Jenko tries to utilize his past experience as the prom king, whilst Schmidt tries to stay true to his teenage awkwardness. Yet times have changed, and with the reversal of roles, they must go out of their element to bust the suppliers.
In a bout of self-parody, screenwriter Michael Bacall crafts a hilarious remake. Part of the movie’s likability comes from not taking itself too seriously. With constant references to Hollywood rehashing old ideas and tight interplay, the physical gags and corny stereotypes are kept at a bare minimum. The oft-used pop-culture jabs, however, are stale (i.e., “You Justin Bieber lookin’ motherfuckas…”). Nonetheless, it’s always nice when the creator of the original television series decides to produce.
The idea of the poles inverting is genius. If The Vow proved anything, it’s that Tatum is a gym junkie. On the other hand, films like Superbad have displayed Hill’s skill at playing awkward characters. It would’ve been too easy to cast them as the jock and nerd respectively and doing it conversely worked out. Tatum, oddly enough, has great comedic timing, and, these days, it’s not hard to envision the latter as a cool kid (as long as he had alcohol to spare). These performers work well together and are supported by fantastic actors like Rob Riggle, who recites his lines with enough energy to make his stock character, a clueless gym teacher, feel fresh. The potty-mouthed Ice Cube is another worthy addition.
But the direction is a bit flat. The locations are nothing special and Lord and Miller’s depiction of a drug high is less than original. There isn’t a definitive style and, whilst the movie relies largely on its performers and screenplay, I would’ve liked more of a visual panache.
Nevertheless, although shining a light on today’s youth’s lack of morals, 21 Jump Street plays out like a modern high school party: Unpredictable, loud, and raunchy fun.