MOVIE REVIEW: 21 Jump Street



When it comes to movie remakes, reboots, or adaptations of an existing name or brand, the trend lately, thanks to movies like Casino Royale, The A-Team, or Star Trek, has been to bring the old idea to the present with a new origin story ignoring the previous historical canon.  For the new 21 Jump Street, the existing history of the famous young Johnny Deep cop drama from the late 80's is embraced, alluded to (watch for former surprise old cast member cameos, including Depp himself), and is the springboard for new modern direction, within minimum need for a new origin.

This adaptation is more a revival than anything else.  Much like Pixar veterans Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol) and Andrew Stanton (last week's John Carter), the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller make their live-action feature debut after their successful animated take on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Teaming up with screenwriter Michael Bacall (Project X  and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) and initial story starter (and headliner) Jonah Hill, their collective decision to turn the serious 80's cop procedural source into a raunchy R-rated action comedy is done to superior success.

In this interpretation of 21 Jump Street, we are quickly introduced through an opening montage to the nerdy castoff Morgan Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and cocky jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), two Class of 2005 high school opposites who reconnect at the police academy after pairing their mutual strengths to help each other pass.  As bottom-of-the-totem-pole rookies, they are reduced to bike patrol in the park.  After idiotically blowing a big arrest that would have got them out of playground duty, their captain (a smooth Nick Offerman appearance from Parks and Recreation) sees their young and dumb potential and transfers them to the Jump Street division.  Led by the surly Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, living up to part of his character name), Jump Street is a revival of an undercover program from the 80's designed to use young-looking officers to infiltrate and thwart crimes among minors.

Schmidt and Jenko are assigned by Dickson to go undercover at a local high school to stop a deadly new synthetic drug (street name HFS) from spreading to more schools.  Specifically, their mission is to get in with the dealers and find the suppliers.  Thinking it's going to be a piece of cake, the two find high school has gone green, emo, and sensitive since their days.  Upon mixing their up their cover identities and flipping their comfortable stereotypes, Schmidt ends up on Jenko's cool guy jock track while the beefy Jenko ends up surrounding by the chemistry nerds.  Out of their element, they meet a bevy of connections and suspects between a local biker gang (led by comedian DeRay Davis), teachers (including The Office's Ellie Kemper and comedians Rob Riggle, Chris Parnell, and Jake Johnson) and students, including popular alpha male Eric (David Franco, just as cackling and annoying as his big brother James) and theater doll Molly (Brie Larson). 

Let's face it.  Genitalia jokes and people on drugs are funny.  Cringing over homophobia and stereotypes is funny.  Elaborate profanity delivered by Ice Cube's angry demeanor and Jonah Hill's constant state of nervous fluster are always going to be hilarious.  21 Jump Street puts all of those charged ingredients together better than Paula Dean combines carbohydrates and cholesterol.  The surprise is the physical comedy and investment of Channing Tatum to make a fool out of himself at every turn. Normally somber in his chick flicks (Dear John, The Vow) or expressionlessly serious in action movies (G.I. Joe, Haywire), Tatum's macho energy and contagious charm match perfectly with Hill's awkwardness and discomfort.  They simply make a great team for both action and comedy.

Yes, the movie is extremely guilty (especially in the last half hour) of letting things that started funny escalate to rapidly and go too far.  However, that's a little by by design from Bacall and Hill to make this R-rated and over the top with action.  Still, you can only keep the preposterous gear going so long before it's going to boil over in over-amped cliches and brainlessly shouted action movie dialogue.  Nevertheless, the sheer enjoyment outweighs the overcooked edges.  The ending begs for a sequel that it definitely deserves.

LESSON #1: EMBRACE YOUR STEREOTYPES-- This lesson is two-fold in 21 Jump Street.  The first aspect is the hook of the Jump Street undercover program itself.  Exploit your youthful looks and their ability to make people see you differently.  Second, be yourself when it comes to the many niches, groups, and stereotypes in high school.  As different and disconnected as you many feel in your given niche, it can be your natural role and logical place to which you best belong and fit.  Few people can bridge gaps and change their niche.  However,...

LESSON #2: OVERCOMING STEREOTYPES-- ...there are equal opportunities and sometimes necessary instances in life to break stereotypes and allow people to become a more involved, connected, well-rounded, or completely different person.  For as much as there's logic in embracing your stereotypes at certain times, some people blossom when breaking free of their usual norms and environment.  To watch Schmidt become the cool guy and Jenko become the nerd was beneficial to both characters for both of these lessons.

LESSON #3: "GLEE" IS THE CAUSE OF A NEW GENERATION OF HIGH SCHOOLS-- As Schmidt and Jenko keenly experience and observe, when did "granola" become cool?  When did two straps become cooler than one strap when it comes to backpacks?  As Channing Tatum declares profanely, we need to blame Glee.  #%$*ing Glee!

LESSON #4: THE GUIDANCE OF "KOREAN JESUS"-- Much like the "8 lb. 6 oz. Baby Jesus" that Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby draws his power and prayer from in Talledega Nights, we are blessed in 21 Jump Street to have the presence of "Korean" Jesus.  You'll see.  He solves problems, both Korean and non-Korean!

LESSON #5: THE CAUSES AND MANY POSSIBLE INGREDIENTS OF HUGE MOVIE EXPLOSIONS-- Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of TV's Mythbusters will tell you.  No explosion is a guarantee.  Action movies make you think explosions are easy and its a running gag in this movie.  You would think bullets, tumbling cars, sliding motorcycles, oil slicks, errant gas tanks, well-marked propane, and jackknifed tanker semis would do the trick, but the stars have to align just right.  Who knew chicken poop was such a great catalyst?!

LESSON #6: DRUGS ARE BAD, KIDS-- That's especially true for one nicknamed HFS (take a guess what the initials stand for) and bearing the logo of a pile of poop with an angelic halo above it.

LESSON #7: GETTING TOO DEEP UNDERCOVER-- Alright, I'll close on a legitimate lesson after a string of farcical ones.  Like many movie cliches that came before it, 21 Jump Street  is another excellent addition to the "in too deep" trapping of cops going undercover.  Both of our heroes, but especially Schmidt, get a little too close to their targets when asked to operate among them through lying and deception.  Such is always the cardinal trouble of being undercover.