"We're reviving a canceled undercover project from the '80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they've run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle s**t from the past and hope that nobody will notice." – Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman)
Maybe that’s what some Hollywood producer slackers actually do, but that self-effacing line of dialogue alone proves that in Jonah Hill and co-writer Michael Bacall’s (Project X, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) devoted fanboy hands, the film 21 Jump Street is a wry, playful, crude and curiously charming diversion on a classic buddy cop/fish-out-of-water storyline that just happens to share the same title as the ’80s Fox series starring Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson Peete.
Never saw the original “21 Jump Street?” Neither did this reviewer, and it really doesn’t matter. You know the basic premise: baby-faced cops go undercover and back to high school to infiltrate the underbelly of the student body. Viewers meet Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) when they were high school seniors their own selves; Schmidt is an awkward, geeky, lemonade-haired Slim Shady wannabe and Jenko is all about tough boys just wanting to have fun. Needless to say, they aren’t BFFs. Fast forward to the present where the two are cops in training and Jenko decides that Schmidt would make a great friend with academic benefits. In kind, he helps his new buddy out in the running, reckless driving and shooting departments. Their dreams of becoming the next Dirty Harrys, however, are dashed when they are assigned with public park security duty, and their biggest bust is little kids covertly feeding the ducks.
That is until they come across some badass drug dealers and could have made a career-building arrest—if only Jenko remembered more than the first seven words of the Miranda rights! Deputy Chief Hardy takes the opportunity of their failure to send them back to high school, via a retreaded undercover operation based out of a Korean church on 21 Jump Street, led by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). Their mission, which they have no choice but to accept, is to identify the source of a powerful new synthetic drug which is exclusive to their old high school and the cause of the deadly overdose of a local drama student.
Schmidt and Jenko are now brothers, living with Schmidt’s obsessed parents (Caroline Aaron and Joe Chrest) and enrolled to take their respective geek- and jock-focused classes. The rules are simple: find the source of the drug before it hits the streets, don’t blow your cover, don’t give the kids drugs or alcohol and no fooling around with fellow students or teachers. Guess how many of those rules are broken in record time?
It’s a no-brainer that the dealer is tree-hugging popular kid Eric (Dave Franco, giving deadpan a new definition) since he seeks the guys out and offers them a taste as he finishes the girls’ volleyball yearbook pages before lunch; but where is it coming from? Schmidt learns he was born about seven years too soon—now the world loves a brainy nerdy comic fiend, and he finds himself the object of perky Molly’s (Brie Larson) affection. Jenko is thrown off his game, as high school has become too politically correct; mocking and punching, his time-proven tactics of being cool, aren’t working for him. “I blame ‘Glee.’” It’s opposite bizarro world now that Schmidt is the toast of high school and Jenko is forced to hang out with the geeks—forget the bust, will they make it to the senior prom?
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) at times careen out of their comfort level with routine preposterous shoot-‘em-up car chases that are a little more than filler, but otherwise they keep the action and the laughs moving. Tatum and Hill have an unexpected chemistry that keeps the story all about their characters’ friendship and Tatum proves to be a comic surprise. Pining for a little Depp? Keep your eyes open, there might be a cameo or two when least expected!
21 Jump Street
is now available on DVD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, MRSP: $30.99) and Blu-ray (MSRP: $35.99). Both versions include an UltraViolet digital copy of the film as well as a lighthearted audio commentary track with directors Lord and Miller and stars Hill and Tatum that’s an entertaining recount of the film’s production. The deleted scenes reel features four clips on the DVD release and 20 (running half an hour) on the Blu-ray; included are moments cut from existing scenes on the DVD and completely new footage with some fun riffing from Rob Riggle (teacher Mr. Walters) and Ice Cube on the Blu-ray. The extra footage was obviously deleted due to length considerations and the film doesn’t suffer for it, but the clips are entertaining just the same.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray also include the featurette “Back to School” which allows the 21 Jump Street cast and crew to answer the quintessential question, “If you could go back to high school again, what you would do differently?”
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release is a five minute gag reel and “Cube-O-Rama,” with even more of Captain Dickson’s ranting. “Brothers in Arms” features Hill and Tatum’s on-screen chemistry (as well as Hill’s reluctance to do stunts!). “The Rob Riggle Show” allows the comic to further riff on his Mr. Walters character, the athletic coach who goes to the dark side.
“Johnny Depp on Set” is about Depp, without much Depp—it contains comments from the other actors along with footage from his cameo. Rounding out the Blu-ray extras is “Peter Pan on the Freeway,” a behind-the-scenes look at the shooting of the car chase scene.
It’s true, there are suckers born every minute, and although most viewers must know that feature films based on popular television shows are likely doomed to fail, we keep on hoping. Sometimes, though, the Hollywood brain trust gets it right; all it takes is some new blood with a spirit of originality, along with respect for the original source. 21 Jump Street probably won’t bring a new audience to the series, but taking an outdated chestnut and turning it into a broad buddy comedy was a stroke of genius.
21 Jump Street is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.