21 Jump Street ✮1/2
by Glenn Lovell
The latest in a seemingly endless slew of painful spoofs based on TV shows, “21 Jump Street” takes an OK premise ‒ two undercover cops get a second shot at making the grade in high school ‒ and milks it for an occasional chuckle before devolving into a succession of increasingly lame sketches.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as former high school classmates who, coincidence of coincidences, now find themselves classmates at the Police Academy. You know the drill. Schmidt/Hill is the pudgy outsider, every bully’s delight; Jenko/Tatum is Studly Do-Right, the handsome dunce. Though they ran in different circles in school, out of necessity they join forces on the force ‒ and prove twice as ineffectual.
Relieved of park-patrol duty, they’re assigned to “a revived undercover program ‒ from the 1980s.” It’s run by the ever-apoplectic Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) and operated out of a derelict church at the address of the title. Their job: to “get in with the burnouts and popular kids” at Sagan H.S. and, as pretend brothers, expose whoever it is dealing a new synthetic hallucinogen.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this fitful farce, you’re already ahead of me. Most of the best (read semi-funny) moments are in the teaser. Scrub that! Most of the film is in the teaser, from the set-up to the prom-night climax. In between, we get Schmidt and Jenko, their undercover personas reversed, struggling with their least likely subjects. Instead of “embracing their stereotypes,” as Dickson instructed, Jenko hangs with the nerds in band and honors chemistry and Schmidt swaggers unconvincingly as the popular jock.
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) from a kernel of an idea by Hill, also billed as executive producer, “21 Jump Street” isn’t as much of a stinker as “Bewitched” or “The Brady Bunch,” but it’s no “Starsky and Hutch” with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, either. The problem is that the filmmakers wanted to be both charming and crude, and the results play like “School of Rock” meets “Bad Boys II,” complete with the spewing red stuff and freeway pile-ups (that ‒ wait for the joke ‒ never explode). The one semi-amusing twist: Much to Jenko’s bewilderment, the high-schoolers of the 21st Century turn out to be a bunch of smug, politically correct tree-huggers.
As I struggled through this comedy, I took solace in the assumption that Johnny Depp, a “Jump Street” alum, was too cool to agree to a guest cameo. But even that balloon was burst as Depp joined the TV show’s other regulars Richard Grieco and Peter DeLuise for the final shootout. Somehow, Depp’s participation was more of a letdown than the movie.
21 JUMP STREET ✮1/2 With Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Ice Cube, Dave Franco. Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller; scripted by Michael Bacall from a story by Hill and Bacall. 109 min. Rated R (for profanity, crude humor, violence)