21 Jump Street
Cops-in-high-school comedy fails at nostalgia
21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Despite ample evidence arguing against jokey big-screen remakes of campy old crime fighting TV shows (Dragnet, The Avengers, Wild Wild West, I Spy, The Mod Squad, Starsky & Hutch, Get Smart, The A-Team), Hollywood continues to plunder the ancient airwaves for cinematic inspiration. The latest show to get swept up in the remake/reboot wave is the old FOX stalwart “21 Jump Street.”
Back in 1987, the super-hip, acid-washed, teenage cop show launched the careers of Johnny Depp and Richard Grieco (and Peter DeLuise, I guess). Now, Hollywood has reimagined the series as a raunchy buddy comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. It’s an idea sure to annoy sincere “21JS” fans—if such a creature exists.
Hill and Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, a couple of screw-up police academy students just one shower scene and a Steve Guttenberg away from a Police Academy sequel. Schmidt is the fat nerd. Jenko is the dumb jock. By combining their strengths, the two manage to make it through their training and graduate to rookie bike cop status. Despite being utter failures at their jobs, Schmidt and Jenko are recruited to be part of a special undercover task force. Their job is to infiltrate a local high school and bust a designer drug ring. Hijinks ensue.
For starters, our heroes mix up their undercover identities—forcing Schmidt to become the all-star athlete and Jenko to act like a know-it-all nerd. How funny is that? If you answered “Not very,” you are correct. If, on the other hand, you’re 13 years old and think cursing is funny, 21 Jump Street will have you in stitches. Fully 65 percent of all the jokes on screen involve the words “dick,” “dicks” “bag of dicks” or “suck my dick.” I’m not even exaggerating there. Dirty jokes are fine, so long as they’re well constructed. Occasionally finding a new word for the male anatomy doesn’t count. Inspired jokes are definitely in the minority here. A ’90s flashback of Hill dressed as an Eminem wannabe is spot-on, and a running joke about things failing to explode is clever—if a bit nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
There’s a standard-issue prom sequence, a bunch of test anxiety, Jonah Hill dressed as Peter Pan and a chance for our heroes to overcome their various high school insecurities. Occasionally, the film remembers that it’s supposed to be some sort of police action thingy. There’s a fight with the fakest looking biker gang Central Casting could supply. Hallucinogens are consumed. Guns are fired. Eventually, the mystery of who’s the big kingpin behind the drug operation is solved with what could be the single silliest clue in the history of fictional police investigation, and everybody gets to go home.
Ice Cube drops by once or twice to phone in his performance as “Angry Black Police Captain” (he even refers to himself by that stereotyped monicker). James Franco’s frighteningly Franco-esque little bro Dave Franco adds a little charisma in the thankless role of a politically correct, environmentally conscious, hybrid-driving high school drug dealer. (Huh?) A few comedy ringers are sprinkled throughout for flavoring (Rob Riggle from “The Daily Show,” Chris Parnell from “30 Rock,” Nick Offerman from “Parks and Recreation,” Ellie Kemper from “The Office”). Most of them try to improvise their way to some funny lines. Most of them fail miserably under trying circumstances. Kemper, for example, wastes her screen time as a teacher desperately hitting on her students. It’s considerably more awkward than it is funny.
Aside from a too-little, too-late cameo, 21 Jump Street does little to milk its nostalgia. Instead, it sticks to juvenile, groin-centric jokes and heavily stereotyped characters. Frankly, the gelled hair, jean jackets and neon-colored bandanas of the original were way funnier.