The last two weeks, I went to see movies that were squarely in the comedy category, including “Wanderlust” and “Friends with Kids.” So when I went to see “21 Jump Street” this weekend I thought that the good comedy streak might run out. While the movie had its funny moments – including some tongue-in-cheek nods to the series on which it is based – there were not many jokes that were not featured prominently in the trailer.
The movie is not so much a reboot of the late 1980s series about undercover cops who infiltrate high schools in search of crime as it is a parody of the original. The movie does include cameos by some of the original cast members, including a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson Peete, who both starred as undercover cops in the original series.
This new iteration of the idea is written by Michael Bacall, with directing by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as the two baby-faced cops who end up on Jump Street.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are not friends in high school, where Jenko is the star quarterback who picks on nerds like Schmidt, who dresses like the rapper Eminem in 2005. The two end their senior year with not being able to go to the prom – Jenko because he failed one too many tests and Schmidt because no girl will go with him. They part ways, but reconnect five years later at the police academy. Schmidt does well on the written tests, but is struggling with the physical aspects of the training. Jenko fails all the written tests, but does great when it comes to the obstacle courses. Jenko proposes that they become friends and they each train the other in their area of expertise.
Many of the funny moments from the trailers are in the first 30 minutes of the movie so there are a lot of laughs at the beginning. Schmidt and Jenko start off their career as bicycle cops at a quiet park. They find the job boring until they catch up with a motorcycle gang that is carrying drugs. They take down one of the perpetrators, but Jenko has never memorized the Miranda rights so the charges won’t stick. Nick Offerman, of “Parks and Recreation,” has one of the funniest lines in a moment that pokes fun at the fact that the movie is not based on an original concept.
The two are sent to 21 Jump Street where Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) is in charge. He curses and sets up the ground rules for the officers – they cannot get expelled, they cannot get involved with students and they cannot get involved with teachers. Jenko and Schmidt’s assignment includes finding out who is supplying a new synthetic drug to teens at a local school – one student has already died from an overdose. The two are given new identities and are told to move back in with Schmidt’s parents to make it look like they really are teens.
Capt. Dickson bases their fake identities on aspects of their performance from high school. Schmidt will be enrolled in AP chemistry and band, while Jenko will be signed up for drama, photography and track. The two are told to find the dealers to get to the supplier. He believes the dealers will be slacker kids and the supplier could be a bright chemistry student. The officers, who are supposed to play brothers, trade in their beat-up car for a fancy mustang, thinking it will get them some popularity points.
In the five years since they graduated from high school, times have changed. The popular kids aren’t into Jenko’s fast car and they don’t think organized sports are cool. They ride their bikes to spare the air and drive cars fueled on French fry grease. They think it is cool to study and get good grades. Before they even get into their new school, Jenko and Schmidt land in the principal’s office for assaulting another student.
While there, they mix up their new identities as Brad and Doug. Jenko ends up in chemistry and band while Schmidt takes on drama class. The tables have turned quickly, as Schmidt finds himself in with the popular kids, including Eric (Dave Franco,) an environmentally-conscious senior who has plans to attend Berkeley in the fall and Molly (Brie Larson,) a pretty drama nut who has the lead in the school play. Jenko finds himself hanging out with the nerds from chemistry.
The partners easily find the dealers, but struggle to find the supplier for the synthetic drug that makes kids giggle, hallucinate and pretty much go crazy for a few hours. As they work together, Jenko does not do well with the role reversal of being an outsider in high school. Schmidt enjoys being in with the in crowd. The two let their new roles come between them just as the case is coming to a head.
The movie has some funny moments, but the writer also relied a lot on dirty jokes that did not really add to the storyline. Some of the smaller roles were the most enjoyable, including Nick Offerman, Ellie Kemper and Johnny Depp. The movie is set up so a sequel might be likely.