Review: 21 Jump Street

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum send up the iconic Fox drama that launched Johnny Depp. The unlikely duo manages to generate a bit of chemistry and decent laughs, but the film never really hit its potential.

I have never seen an episode of 21 Jump Street. The only thing I knew going in was that Depp was on the show, and it involved cops infiltrating schools. Fortunately, you don’t really need to know more than that.

Before I start dissecting it, know that the film is funny. Laughter was pretty steady through out, and I was in a theater with a small audience. It will probably play much better with a full house.  The humor mainly focused on the mild chemistry between Hill and Tatum with a steady influx of dick jokes.

I tend to like more cerebral humor and less of the broader, physical stuff. Scenes like the extended drug sequence didn’t do much for me, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. I can’t fault the movie for that. That’s just personal preference.

There were a few more serious issues though.

The more you think about the plot, the less sense it makes. It also becomes quite a bit creepier.

Let’s set the stage first. Schmidt and Jenko (Hill and Tatum) graduated high school in 2005. They entered the police academy at the same time and became rookie cops in 2012. So what happened in the seven years after high school?

Schmidt is also supposed to be geeky and smart. Why is he suddenly becoming a police officer?

These are the kind of questions whose answers provide character depth. If the film had cut a few dick jokes and eliminated Schmidt’s love interest in favor of that character development, I think it could have worked much better.

The best way to explain it is that it seems like someone had the idea to make a movie about a geek and jock going back to school to find their roles reversed and turned it into a 21 Jump Street movie. They filled in a few plot points to set up what they really wanted to do, instead of following the natural flow of what the characters would actually do.

For example, in a party scene Schmidt confronts drug dealing student from another school. Schmidt has no problem standing his ground. I thought that was a plus (he’s a trained cop after all).

However, when a confrontation ensues Schmidt suddenly has no idea how to fight. What was the point of the training montage that showed Jenko helping him with the physical side of being a cop? Schmidt won’t shoot his gun. He can’t fight. Why is he a cop?

These dots needed to be connected a bit better.

I mentioned a love interest earlier. She simply doesn’t work for the story. Brie Larson does a fine job, but when you remember that Schmidt is a 25-year-old undercover cop, it’s just creepy. The first time Schmidt sees her we get the slow-mo romantic shot meaning he wants to bang her. He has no idea who she is or how old she is.

The non-romance that was supposed to be creepy was between Jenko and his AP Chemistry teacher played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper. This was a can of insanity that should have been opened early and often.

Hill and Tatum both towed the line respectfully. Hill mined his usual schtick successfully as the awkward geeky hero. He didn’t quite have the edge to his dialogue that we enjoyed in Superbad or other films, but he SHOULDN’T have had it anyway given his character.

Tatum was surprisingly adequate. He still lacks the expressive abilities and humor instincts that make a solid comic actor, but he delivered enough to make a good team with Hill.

If you gauge the film only on comedy, 21 Jump Street succeeds. If you’re looking for something with a story and maybe an emotion or two this isn’t your film.

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