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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: 21 Jump Street

21 JUMP STREET (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Phil Lord/Chris Miller, 2012

Why is it that so many current American movie-makers (scriptwriters mostly), are so obsessed with somehow going back to their high school years (in imagination, that is) and making a success of what was apparently, for many of them, and us, a horrible angst-ridden, sexually-repressed botch of broken hearts, frayed nerves. dictatorial teachers and abject humiliation? We were all Jonah Hills, presumably, but we wanted to be Channing Tatums. And guess what: The Channing Tatums sometimes wanted to be Jonah Hills — at least after he lost a little weight. Or so this movie would have us believe.

The big current movie hit 21 Jump Street, which is set up as a spoofy knockoff of the 1987-91 Fox cop drama series about young DEA agents masquerading as highschoolers (the show that made a star of of Johnny Depp), is also another of that Peggy Sue Got MarriedThe Best of Times sub-genre. It’s bout how short, nerdy unpopular Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill, of course) and studly ultra-popular jock-dumbo Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum, natch), who were once stud-vs.dweeb antagonists in some 2005 New Orleans high school, meet up again in cop training in 9012, and become cop-buddies — each supplying the brains (or brawn) the other guy lacks.

They’re also assigned to what their boss, surly Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, in full snarl mode, with an old NWA song on the soundtrack) describes as a remake of an old, defunct program called — let’s see, what is it, could it be, I don’t know, 37 Jump Street? Give a hand to scriptwriter Michael Bacall for avoiding the obvious line, 69 Jump Street. Or 22 Jump Street. Or 21 Hump Street. Whatever. No matter. This is one movie that is refreshingly unafraid of all its own cliches or stereotypes, a movie where one character, a full-of-himself drama teacher, insists “Embrace your stereotypes!” And means it.

True to the template of buddy-buddy-cop comedies, mixed liberally with high school reprise shtick, 21 Jump Street (The Movie!) turns these two old enemies into fast friends — in a brand new post-John Hughes high school world where the dope dealers are politically correct. (Dave Franco, James‘ brother, as Brit-inclined yearbook editor Eric Molson).

In a maneuver that left me bewildered, Schmidt and Jenko wind up getting mistaken for each other, and assuming each other‘s profiles, and assigned to each other’s hand-picked (by Dickson) course schedules (Jenko takes science; Schmidt takes drama.) when it might have been fairly easy, at first, to just straighten out the mistake. (Not that it should have been straightened out, but somebody should have tried and failed. )

These brothers in narcdom also set up housekeeping, as fake brothers, in Schmidt’s semi-quasi-palatial suburban home (with his eccentric parents Caroline Aaron and Joe Chrest, who have his photos all over the walls), and throwing wild high school parties there, complete with dope they borrow from the evidence room.

It might seem that many people in the neighborhood, relatives, acquaintances, a number of alums from the guys’ old school, would easily notice something awry here, or at school, But amnesia seems to have afflicted the neighborhood, or at least  Bacall’s script.

Schmidt and Jenko (The Movie!) also spend a lot of time racing out of their classes to help each other out, and Schmidt ditches the opening performance of Peter Pan (in which he has the title role) to pursue the dope gang headed (it seems) by hip-hop Domingo (DeRay Davis) and somebody who looks like ZZ Top unplugged. Of course, he’s a cop and that’s what he’d do, but it might have been funnier if he were torn about it more.

Wait a minute. We forgot sex. Schmidt, the one time loser, strikes it rich with the movie’s Renee Zellweger look-and-sound-alike Brie Larson as his fellow drama student Molly., while ladykiller Jenko has to content himself with a science teacher out of Bridemaids (Ellie Kemper). There are also jokes where a surprise villain gets his penile implement (dick for short) shot off in a gunfight, and then has to pick it up with his teeth. (Farrellys, eat your hearts out.) I didn’t laugh, and neither, I‘m sort of happy to say, did the audience around me.

I may have missed those laughs, but since 21 Jump Street is already a certifiable big hit — and even a certifiable critical hit — nothing I can say is likely to resonate one way or another. The fact that I found it not very funny, not very entertaining, visually scrappy, and full of dopey scenes that made little or no sense will count for little or nothing here in Box Office Mega Land.

“Well anyway, that’s the whole point,” 21 Jump Street partisans may say: It‘s supposed to be full of stereotypes and dopey scenes that make no sense. That’s entertainment! The movie is a spoof of a sendup of a satire of a knockoff: a satire of itself as well as of movies in general, and even of critics. 21 keeps knocking itself before you/we carpers can unload on it. This movie knows that it’s a stupid movie. It’s knowing, funny, dumb-like-a-fox stupidity and deliberate stereotype, and not just the stereotypes we see all the time anyway.

Well, yeah, granted. Okay. Maybe. I guess. Ya think? I’m perfectly willing to concede that, where this movie is concerned, I’m on the wrong wavelength. Maybe it’s really the Adaptation of TV series knockoffs. But it still seemed a dubious expenditure of energy for the audience, for Jonah Hill, for Channing Tatum, and even for Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise. (Oh, wait a minute: Spoiler Alert, End of Spoiler, ah the hell with it. At least Depp is a good sport about this movie. And at least he didn’t send over the Johnny Depp impersonator from Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.)

21 Jump Street has been directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the writer-directors of the cartoon feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and written by Bacall, who scripted Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. I like some of their movies and I’m perfectly willing to give them all the benefit of the doubt, especially since so many other people seem to like and relate to this picture. But then high school was a horrible, humiliating time, wasn’t it? So are a lot of movies.


One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: 21 Jump Street”

  1. eric says:

    Fuck you, this movie review is shit, I thoroughly enjoyed 21 jump street. Why do you even watch movies, you philistine? Go back to your knitting and wine-tasting, you pompous ass hat.


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