I wasn’t sure what to think of 21 Jump Street going in. I never watched the TV show, although I knew the premise. I also dislike watching Jonah Hill on screen, but Channing Tatum I enjoy, especially when he’s displaying a sense of humor. Yet Hill won me over in the opening 2005 flashback, where he’s decked out like an Eminem-wannabe, bleached hair and all. Clearly, he’s not afraid to look stupid for the joke, which helps the movie stay funny throughout. It works well because it doesn’t take itself or its characters seriously.
Tatum’s character, Jenko, the cool-guy jock, winds up buddying up with Hill’s character, Schmidt, when they both enter the police academy. Nerdy Schmidt tutors Jenko on the written exams while Jenko gets Schmidt through the physical workouts. The two dream of being badasses, but after messing up a bust as bike cops, they’re sent over to an undercover unit looking for drugs in high school.
The clever part of the movie comes when, due to the guys messing up again, Schmidt is put in with the cool kids — theater geeks in this case — while Jenko hangs out with the smarties in chemistry lab. Both discover hidden talents as a result, and they wind up solving the case in spite of themselves (and with a full-scale action shootout). While it’s funny to see them take on each other’s roles, it also allows for some actual acting and character growth.
21 Jump Street works because Tatum and Hill commit to acting like teens, even when supposedly adult police officers. My favorite part of the film is when they show up at high school and they don’t get how much being cool in school has changed, since they know nothing about climate awareness and avoiding homophobia.
Ice Cube, Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street
Also in the movie are Dave Franco and Brie Larson as two significant school kids, with Schmidt developing a crush on the latter. Rob Riggle plays a coach and Chris Parnell plays the drama teacher. Of particular note is Ice Cube as Captain Dickson, Jenko and Schmidt’s boss. His scenes are few but memorable as he explains the plot to them and takes no crap in return. And yes, Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise, and Holly Robinson Peete, all from the original show, make cameos.
I don’t want to talk too much about what happens, since much of the humor comes from the weird twists the film takes. At least, that’s how I wound up enjoying it a lot more than I expected to. It’s not a classic, but it’s enjoyable, especially if you don’t have too many expectations and a high tolerance for profanity. I laughed at it. What more can you ask from an action comedy?
21 Jump Street is available on Blu-ray and DVD next Tuesday, June 26.
There’s a good mix of the usual extras on the Blu-ray. The commentary with Hill, Tatum, and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller carries on more of the same attitudes from the film. So do the twenty deleted scenes, almost a half-hour of additional or expanded material.
The featurette “Back to School” (8 minutes) discusses how the movie came about and shows some behind-the-scenes footage. “Brothers in Arms” (6 1/2 minutes) is similar but focused on the relationship between the two leads. In addition to a five-minute gag reel, “Cube-O-Rama” is two minutes of filming Ice Cube’s speeches.
There’s also almost 5 minutes of “Johnny Depp on Set”, about how his cameo came together (but no participation from him). “The Rob Riggle Show” focuses on that actor for 9 1/2 minutes. “Peter Pan on the Freeway” spends 4 minutes on the making of the film’s car chase scene. The bonuses are enough to provide a feeling of a full experience without being overwhelming. (The studio provided a review copy.)