I didn’t think I’d like 21 Jump Street (21JS), based on the numerous previews I’d seen. It looked too sophomoric, asinine and full of typical cop movie fare — all of which it was, in the end. However, 21JS was joyously juvenile, knowingly meaningless and made fun of the audience’s preconceived notions about cop movies — and film remakes — in a terrifically funny way.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are two hapless cops who graduate from the local police academy and are immediately assigned to Dante’s purgatory of policework: Bike duty.
Their incompetence at this most mundane of cop tasks sends them undercover to Sagan High School, named after pop cosmologist Carl Sagan, who I actually met in a grad school. He towered over me, when I was a stretch at 5-8 and he was probably 6-5. He and then-Vice President Al Gore were touting a new scientific/technological breakthrough that would revolutionize everyday life. Its working title: The Xbox.
21JS is based on the 1980s TV drama of the same name, referenced here in several clever ways. Primarily, it should be noted that the TV original was a straight-up drama, so the movie derives from the original premise.
For those of you that don’t remember, the TV series also launched the career of our greatest living actor, Johnny Depp, who makes a resounding cameo here (along with fellow star Peter DeLuise) that ignited an eruption of applause in the theater.
21JS is rated R and is filled with profanity. All you parents out here, you wonder what makes kids swear? It’s the proliferation of four-letter words that pervade our culture. I’m no prude, but I basically quit swearing about 10 years ago because cuss words are so prevalent that they don’t mean anything anymore. A well–timed “Great creeping Nixon!”, “I blame Iowa!” or “Bat guano!” now means so much more than any string of f-bombs ever could. But nonetheless, after watching this I thought — THOUGHT — the following things: 1) “Where the f--- is my car;” 2) “Why are iPhone accessories so f------ expensive;” and 3) “I’m so f------- hungry I could eat this f----- car and f------- move to Canada, too,” all in the space of 30 seconds.
Some great humor is on display through all this, but you have to pay attention to every nuance to grasp it all. I’m sure I missed some. A sequence early on takes some good-natured swipes at Christianity. For instance, the former church the undercover cops meet in is called the Aroma of Christ. But where’s Pat Robertson during this backhanded swipe at religion? Shouldn’t he be calling for mass boycotts like he did for The Last Temptation of Christ? Oh yeah, it’s an election year, so Satan himself could be luring converts door to door and Robertson would ignore him because he’s too busy extolling the virtues of the next incarnation of George Wallace.
Other funny things you might miss: Sagan High School’s mascot is the Bullsharks, a hairy and tattooed drug/motorcycle gang is named the One Percenters, and the theme of the prom is One Night in Tijuana. I love it when filmmakers’ attention to detail makes you laugh out loud.
Ice Cube plays the eminently quotable Captain Dickson here, a memorable role that stands out as one of the year’s best (yes it’s only March). Likewise, Tatum’s falls rival that of Chevy Chase’s on Saturday Night Live for sheer physical comedy. Good stuff.
“You are here because you look young.” — Captain Dickson
“Embrace your stereotypes.” — Captain Dickson
“They’re teenagers. They’re really stupid. So you should blend right in.” — Captain Dickson
“You’re like the only guy I can trust.” — Molley Tracey (played by Brie Larson) to the undercover Schmidt
“You took a bullet for me. I’m feeling a little ambivalent about that right now” — Jenko to Schmidt
Other observations at the moviehouse
- Tim Burton takes on the 1970s in Dark Shadows. I practically leapt out of my seat upon seeing Johnny Deep speed around in a vintage muscle car while T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” blared out. In the same vein, Men in Black jump in the way back machine for MIB3, when they visit 1969.
- Someone needs to make a superhero comedy. A brooding Incredible Hulk (The Avengers) just seems sad.
- Before her corpse is even cold yet, Whitney Houston is returning to the cinema for the 20th anniversary of The Bodyguard. Thanks Fandango.
- This week I endured a Microsoft commercial at the Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall. That’s a first. And I thought car commercials were boring!
- The normally hilarious Jason Sudekis appears to be slumming it in the upcoming Adam Sandler tripe vehicle That’s My Boy. You’ve been warned.
- If you’re curious about what movie I’m seeing next, Friend me on Facebook. I always check in at the Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall before the movie starts. But remember to turn off your mobile device once the flick begins, just like I do.