*** Originally published on Beyond the Marquee, 06/23/12 ***
Hollywood’s not out of ideas. You’d never know it by the constant barrage of sequels, remakes, adaptations and reboots theaters are hit with year after year. Sure original stuff peeks out now and again, but studios play it safe with tried and true brands – because they make money. Sometimes they’re lousy (Battleship) sometimes they just nail it (Star Trek). Either way, the trend isn’t going to stop anytime soon. On June 26, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases their latest big screen adaptation of a small screen favorite: 21 Jump Street. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as two undercover cops sent back to high school to break up a drug ring. And if you, too, can pretend to be a teenager again, you’re in for some pretty big laughs.
Really, the strength of the film lies in the fact that they don’t try to follow the show much beyond the “back to school” premise. There are plenty of nods to the series (Tatum’s character is named for the original unit’s hippie captain) and cameos from the original cast, but aside from that this movie could’ve stood on its own. Officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) used to be in different cliques back in high school. Jenko was popular, Schmidt was bullied… mostly by Jenko. In the academy they found each other to be two sides of the same coin, one the brains, the other the brawn. Even still, they’re pretty lousy cops, blowing an arrest by screwing up the Miranda rights. When a new designer drug called HFS (Holy Fuckin’ Shit) hits the scene, the Metropolitan Police Department tracks the supplier to the pair’s old high school. Too incompetent for beat work, but immature enough to pass for students, these former foes are sent undercover to their old battleground to find the source of the deadly narcotics. To their surprise, high school life has changed in the last decade and as they fall back into new cliques, their friendship and ultimately their case begins to buckle. Will they be able to find their perp before high school destroys them both?
The first live action film directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), you can tell that this movie was directed Apatow-style: 99% improv hung on a skeletal premise. The problem with this type of film tends to be the actors running away with something that they/the crew obviously find funny on set, but people in the audience don’t respond to. Fortunately for 21 Jump Street, Lord and Miller do a really good job at keeping the actors reeled in so it never gets too out of hand… and the film stays consistently funny. I’m really not a big fan of either lead, but both actors are likeable and fit their respective roles like a glove. To be honest, I’d written Channing Tatum off years ago after his wooden performance in G.I. Joe: The Rise of C.O.B.R.A., but he’s actually won me over with this one – there’s hope for him yet. I’m still on the fence with Jonah Hill, but he’s slowly growing on me with his recent choices. Also worth mentioning are some hilarious scenes with Ice Cube as the team’s leader Captain Dickson. Another change from the original series, Captain Jenko was a peace-loving hippie whereas Dickson’s an “angry black man.” Cube steals nearly every scene he’s in showing little patience for the two knuckleheads he’s had to bring on.
The DVD’s picture quality is superb and I didn’t notice any sort of blurring. Like with most Sony discs, the transfer is so clean and sharp I nearly forgot I wasn’t watching a Blu-Ray. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is also top shelf. There was a little peaking in the included featurette, “Back to School” but it’s behind the scenes footage, so it’s forgivable. Unless this is your favorite film of all time (and even if it is) the DVD version is beyond sufficient for this title.
The disc has a couple of extras including six trailers for movies not related in any way to 21 Jump Street, 4 mediocre deleted scenes and the aforementioned 7 minute “Back to School”. The featurette isn’t bad, but it’s nothing special and I see no excuse for any disc not to include the trailer for the film that’s on it. There’s also a commentary track with directors Lord and Miller and stars Hill and Tatum. It’s fun to hear them speak candidly about the making of the film, pointing out occasional continuity hiccups and off-screen hijinx. Much like the film, the commentary occasionally gets into the vernacular of a high school locker room, so it might not be a something you’ll want to play around Grandma. Unless she’s like my Grandma and can’t hear unless you shout at her. Then again if she’s like my Grandma, she won’t care because she’s too busy blurting out lewd comments regarding Channing Tatum’s physique. Stop it Gramm!
21 Jump Street is as if Billy Madison and Lethal Weapon had a child; a sophomoric buddy cop film loaded with action and penis jokes. If that sounds like it’s up your ally, it’s definitely worth picking up. If you’re skeptical, give it a rental – it’s stupid, but it’s fun. If lewd comedy isn’t your thing, steer clear as just about every joke revolves around genitals. But if you can embrace your inner juvenile, you’ll get why enough people bought tickets to justify Sony greenlighting the sequel and further perpetuating the remake cycle.
I just wonder when Cheers: The Motion Picture will go into production and hope they’ll let me play Norm.