One of the fledgling Fox television network’s first shows was a sort of “Mod Squad” of the 1980s. Called “21 Jump Street,” it featured young Johnny Depp (for a while) and Peter DeLuise (who I think was Dom’s son) as police officers who could pass as teenagers. They did undercover work in high schools, or so I’ve been told. I’ve never seen an episode of the show, which ran for three or four years.
I’ve never seen an episode, and one has to wonder if there are many moviegoers these days who have. So why did Jonah Hill want to spend his commercial peak on a movie send-up of a TV show his fans won’t even have heard of? The movie, with a story Hill co-wrote, at least isn’t something ticketholders are going to expect to be true to an original—they’ve never seen an original “21 Jump Street.”
When I tell you that the film had two directors (usually a sign of trouble) and that the cast includes familiar movie faces Channing Tatum (or Tatum Channing), Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, and DeRay Davis, you would not be wrong to think it unlikely “21 Jump Street” will entertain. But actually, it is pretty good silly fun. Not something you’ll remember three months from now. But a teen movie comedy that won’t have you groaning.
In it Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum or Channing) are old high school classmates. They were antagonists, with Schmidt being the brainy dweeb and Jenko the athletic moron. They meet again in the police academy and agree to help each other to graduate.
That done, they are sent to the title address, a Korean Christian church, where division leader Dickson (Cube) is in full over-bearing mode. He sends the boys to a high school where a popular kid, Eric (Dave Franco, who may be James’s brother) is selling a new synthetic hallucinogen. Schmidt and Jenko have a month to masquerade as brothers, befriend Eric, and learn who is supplying him with the drugs.
The problem is, school administrators confuse the cops’ undercover identities. The principal sends science head Schmidt to the track team and the drama club and cool but witless Jenko to the Chemistry club. Predictably, the officers begin to take on friends and interests associated with their supposed identities—in effect, they switch high school roles.
Schmidt, cast as Peter Pan and falling in love with popular Molly (Brie Larson of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) loses himself in his new persona. The boys have a wild party at his parents’ house during which he faces down a fellow from a rival high school. During the ensuing fight, which is remarkably well-contained for a fight in a movie, Schmidt is stabbed with a short bladed knife which stays in his back. When he discovers it, he announces, “This is awesome” and the crowd of teens cheers.
So the cops have their hall cred. Then there is a chase scene with our heroes hopping cars in a freeway traffic jam as they escape a gang of bikers with whom they earlier had trouble. This seems like the movie’s climax. But wait—there’s still the prom to get to.
“21 Jump Street” is of that class of movies that thinks verbal obscenity and references to bodies and their functions are funny in and of themselves. But it occasionally shows a little wit, too. The prom’s theme is “A Night in Tijuana.” The red-headed chem teacher confuses homonyms, so that she says she wants to look at the buff Jenko’s “chest” and then changes that to “test.”
But the best thing about the movie is that it doesn’t linger on anything. So viewers don’t have a chance to get bored. Or to wonder what the heck the TV show was like.