21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Nick Offerman, Chris Parnell. (2012, R, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 16, 2012
With more dick jokes than you can shake a stick at, this film version of the popular Eighties TV show about undercover cops posing as high school students blasts the material into the 21st century. Not that anyone was asking for a reboot of the series that is perhaps best remembered as the launching pad for Johnny Depp’s career, but here it comes anyway. The film will probably gain several points on the likability scale for its sheer unexpectedness and modest ambitions. But I don’t know that the insertion of raunch and knowing winks into this teen-world action comedy is enough to recruit me to its ranks.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are good foils for each other as Schmidt and Jenko, the inept bicycle cops who are demoted to the Jump Street undercover operation headed by a stereotypically angry, black precinct captain (Ice Cube). Seven years earlier, the pair were seniors at the same high school where Schmidt was a supreme nerd and Jenko a cool jock, although neither got to go to the senior prom. On this second go-round, they get to make peace with the past and finally go to the prom. The movie’s intrinsic joke is that now all the school’s cool kids are not athletes but environmentalists. That neither Hill nor Tatum really look as though they could pass for teenagers is, I guess, another of the movie’s inside jokes – one that sets the tone for the many other unlikelihoods that follow. Tatum is the real revelation of the movie: He proves himself to be a flawlessly amusing comic actor and breaks the shackles of all the action hero/love interest roles he’s been assigned thus far in his career.
The script by Hill and Michael Bacall (Project X, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) has crackling dialogue, trippy drug sequences, and moments of emotional honesty, and co-directors Lord and Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) show snappy flair with this live-action debut. And a cameo by Johnny Depp is absolutely priceless. However, for all the personal growth that our two boys in blue are supposed to experience during the course of their mission, you might think that lessons about callous expressions of misogyny and homophobia might fit into the mix. 21 Jump Street is more than a location; it’s a state of mind.