Movie Review: 21 Jump Street
The Charlotte Observer
A patron coming out of “21 Jump Street” – one of the few who weren’t still snorting with laughter – was annoyed with this riff on the 1980s television show. “That was absurd,” he said. “Totally absurd.”
Wait a minute: A TV show about undercover police in their 20s infiltrating a high school was the height of documentary-style realism, with 24-year-old Johnny Depp and 25-year-old Dustin Nguyen in the leads? Whatever you thought of that show, it had to inspire giggles on some level.
Writer Michael Bacall and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller – all of whom were about middle-school age when the TV show first aired – have turned those giggles into snorts with a raucous, obscene comedy that sustains its single strong joke for an extraordinarily long time.
The clue to the movie’s tone comes early, as a supervisor contemplates the resurrected program that will send new recruits Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) into a school to break up a drug ring. “All these idiots do is recycle (bleep) from the past and expect us not to notice,” he grunts. Point taken: This is recycled bleep fit only for the mockery it gets.
The filmmakers start with a prologue, in which Jenko and Schmidt graduate from high school in the usual way: Tatum plays the dumb, hunky jock, Hill the guy crippled by braces, blemishes and a high IQ that marks him as a dweeb. They realize they need each other to get through the police academy – don’t even ask why Schmidt didn’t go to MIT – and bond reluctantly.
Then they’re assigned to go undercover as brothers moving to a new high school, and here’s where the twist comes in: The cool kids are environmentally conscious, sensitive to gender preferences, artsy and unwilling to judge people by appearances. (Yes, this is a fantasy.) Schmidt flourishes in the company of a folk-singing drug merchant (Dave Franco), and Jenko stumbles in and out of messes until he hooks up with tech-heads.
The filmmakers like to drop broad, foul jokes on us, repeat them, then double the intensity. (Although Lord and Miller last directed “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” this film is naughty with a 100 percent chance of – no, I won’t go there. But the moms who took elementary school kids to the screening were aghast, or should have been.)
The directors lose control of their material at times, and they’re obsessed with one body part. (Example: Ice Cube’s appearance as police captain Dickson.) There’s also something creepy about the burgeoning romance between Schmidt and Molly (Brie Larson), his co-lead in the school play: He’s in his 20s, and she may just have turned 18, though the film does suggest the connection won’t last.
Yet the scenes that parody action movies work every time, from bullet-riddled trucks that refuse to explode to the inevitable chase through city streets – this time in stretch limos, with a drunken prom girl trying to stay out of the gunfire.
The movie has entertaining cameos, too, especially one by Holly Robinson Peete. At 23, she played Officer Judy Hoffs on the TV show. At 48, she plays … Officer Judy Hoffs, the oldest undercover cop on Jump Street. Absurd? Of course. But pretty funny, too.