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21 Jump Street

March 18, 2012
21 Jump Street

It must be said, before anything else, that 21 Jump Street is stupid. It is also, in its way, smart; smart enough to know how stupid it’s being, and to highlight it. And in a way, that’s all that makes the difference between a movie being terrible and being terribly fun.

Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are young police officers. So young that seven years ago they were both in high school; Jenko was a cool jock and Schmidt was a lame nerd. This came in handy during training, when they became fast friends helping each other get through the parts they weren’t great with: Jenko helped Schmidt pass the physical requirements, while Schmidt helped Jenko study for the exams.

Very soon the two are assigned to an undercover unit operating out of an abandoned Korean church at 21 Jump Street, headed up by the angry black stereotypical Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). The unit is — and I want to quote this here — “a revived undercover program from the ’80s, revamped for modern times; the people who make these things up are old and out of ideas, so they try updating [stuff] like this and hope we don’t notice.” Seriously, they say that, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Their first mission is to enter a local high school posing as brothers and infiltrate the group selling a new designer drug called “H.S.M.”, where I’m pretty sure the ‘M’ stands for “MacGuffin”. But this school is pretty much upside-down from the one they knew; Schmidt ends up in the blow-off classes and falling in with the popular kids and those involved in the drug ring — Eric (Dave Franco) and Molly (Brie Larson) — while Jenko ends up in AP chemistry hanging out with the geeks. Hijinks, naturally, ensue.

Now like I said, this movie is stupid. There’s lots of dick and fart jokes going around, and a lot of convenient narrative twists. But it also spends at least as much time lampshading itself; the principal who hauls Jenko and Schmidt into his office the first day says right off how weird it is that nobody is doing anything about a kid who just died of a drug overdose three days earlier, himself included.

Credit is due in large part to screenwriter Michael Bacall, who also contributed to Project X and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The latter film also clearly inspired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller in some of the video game inflected clips.

The biggest problem is that, other than some strategic call-outs and cameos, the movie has little to do with the original series. It’s a pretty straightforward young adult light-raunch comedy, albeit one better written and directed than most. It’s aimed squarely at a demographic that is far too young to have seen the series, and those who did see the series aren’t going to find much to remember here. It’s the same thing that happened with The Mod Squad a dozen years ago, and the producers have got to be nervous about how that one did.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2012 22:55

    Hill and Tatum are great together here and add a lot to this film’s comedy but it’s just the way it is all written that makes it even richer. It’s making fun of those high school comedy conventions but at the same time, is inventing it’s own as it goes on. Great review. Give mine a look when you can.

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