21 Jump Street Cuts Class, Gets Laughs

Despite my earnest appreciation of Johnny Depp, I don’t think I’ve seen a single episode of the original 21 Jump Street TV series, so from a cheap nostalgia standpoint I’m not the target audience for its remake 21 years later.

In recent years, however, I’ve been a strong and vocal supporter of the children’s animated movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs thanks to its gently loony sense of humor and better-than-its-genre comedic timing. So I’m happy to report that Cloudy co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have maintained that same level of well-crafted mayhem and hit-more-than-miss hilarity in their very R-rated and kiddie-inappropriate Jump Street revision.

Granted, Jump Street’s co-directors Lord and Miller have some solid resources to work with including a snappily weird script by co-star Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Project X) and a well-stocked supporting cast that runs the ha-ha gamut from Ice Cube and Nick Offerman to Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, and Jake M. Johnson as various police superiors and public-school staff and gives Brie Larson and Dave “the Younger” Franco a decent showcase as the film’s “real” high-school students. (Franco especially, like his older brother, has a wry, laid-back magnetism.) But best of all, the filmmakers have a new-found comedic wellspring in the inspired pairing of the always amusing Hill with Channing Tatum.

To be fair, Tatum’s done solid work in sappy dramas like Dear John and The Vow and action films like The Eagle, and yes even before Jump Street, he showed fine comedic chops in The Dilemma last year, though thankfully few people saw the otherwise deeply unfunny Vince Vaughn vehicle.

Unfortunately for him, Tatum was thrust upon us around the same time as Sam Worthington, so naturally the two became entangled in viewers’ minds as two sides of the same cinder block. But Tatum appears to have a lot more going on than Worthington—there’s a paved-over layer of sensibility and sensitivity that serves him well in both drama and comedy.

While I dread the notion of Hollywood grabbing hold of Jump Street’s surprisingly successful Hill-Tatum duet and running it into the ground in a series of half-baked comedies in the next couple years, for now the two work well together because they’re both needy whiners. As a pair of Yin-and-Yang young cop partners, nerdy Hill is the socially and physically inept brains while ex-jock Tatum provides the intelligence-free brawn.

However when teamed up they still add up to less than one competent cop, so both are shuffled off to the Jump Street undercover high-school program. Shoved back into high school Hill manically and aggressively plays his character’s neuroses out front with the bitter, cutting wit of the downtrodden, while Tatum hides his self-doubts behind the letter-jacket bluff of the All-American winner. (Hill may have co-written the script, and in Lord and Miller’s hands his usually clever drop-ins carry even more zing, but it’s Tatum who lumbers away with all the best lines.)

The movie’s premise—undercover cops posing as high-school students to bring down an extra-curricular drug ring—could have (should have) fallen flat at nearly every turn. But Hill and Bacall’s script revels in deadpan, self-deprecating meta jokes (the ironic slow-mo heroic swagger shot is overused so many times, it becomes a running joke about its overuse), and sly twists on expectations. (Tatum’s once-popular dumb jock finds himself a stranger in a strange land where the cool kids are now studious, eco-conscious geek lords; and vehicles fail to explode on cue during de rigor action-film car chases.)

For all the cheeky outlandishness, Lord and Miller don’t push the humor envelope as much as bend it—Jump Street has plenty of naughty gags, but it isn’t a deeply, dangerously edge-funny comedy a la Adam McKay or Jody Hill (both of whom took much more vicious and daring swipes at cop movies in The Other Guys and Observe and Report).

Instead of dark inspiration or truly ingenious mania, it sports a more palpably wacky flavor of comedic subversion. Grown-up raunchy, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but more often nicely amusing, 21 Jump Street is just odd and silly enough to keep you giggling, but–like Tatum’s lunk-headed character–it’s not quite sharp enough to do any real damage.

1 Comment to 21 Jump Street Cuts Class, Gets Laughs

  1. December 10, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Open letter

    To Channing Tatum

    Hello Channing Tatum,

    I tried to get in touch with you many times, in many different ways. I sent emails, I tried through your website, through facebook, I even tried to connect your agent. Unfortunately, the access is strongly limited. I made this video for you and spread it on the internet.

    I want to invite you to act the main male charachter in my film.

    Channing Tatum – First of all I would like to tell you more about the film and myself.

    My name is Rosica Karadjova. I was born in Bulgaria, My family is also deaf, and I was born deaf. I live with my mother. My father passed away when i was baby. At the moment I am studying acting and dance theatre at a university.

    Three years ago I reached the final of a dance show in Bulgaria, but unfortunately finished second. After the show I decided to write a novel about my life. Unexpectedly for me it turned into a best-seller in Bulgaria. After that I adapted it as a screenplay. I sent it to producers and directors in the US and once again, unexpectedly – they liked it.

    Thus began the story of “The Rhythm of the Heart”. The film is financed by the Central Cooperative Bank – Bulgaria. The producers are UFO International Productions LLC (UFO).

    However, I don’t understand why me, an eternal fan of yours, can’t get in touch with you. Actually, you deserve your fame firstly to us – your fans.

    It’s true I’m a deaf and poor girl, but do I have to be a great star to have your attention?

    And the most important thing – I’m searching you to star in my film. I found the money myself and I’m ready to pay. You shouldn’t be afraid to answer my calls, I’m not looking for alms or regret.

    Remember when you were young and started your career, remember the people that helped you and gave you the chance to be famous.

    I have no strings attached, I just want a better future.
    If I don’t get the chance, it means I’ll lose my future.

    All you, young people, do you realize that losing the future is not like losing elections, but worse

    Whatever happens to my film, I believe no money could make me a hearing person or to cure me. But I have the right to fight for it.

    All I want you to know is that I am a great fan of yours and I’ll always be. I really adore your talent and I wish you all the best.
    Let God be with you and your family!


    The film “The Rhythm of the heart” is an adaptation of the novel by Rossitza Karadjova and is based on her own life, mixed together with her dreams. The leading female role will be performed by Rossitza Karadjova herself, who was born deaf, a winner of Miss Silence Bulgaria – 2010, and a finalist in “Bailando” on Nova TV.
    The film is filled with music, dance and passion. It shows that dreams can become reality and that it is important to dream, no matter what difficulties we may face in our life. Such was the fate of the lead role, Rossi. It’s a story of a little deaf girl, born during the changes in Bulgaria that has lost her father at an early age and stood up in front of the wall erected between the hearing and the deaf people. The film is a story about the struggle of a child to survive in a black and white world of deafness, led by her dream of becoming an actress and make her life more colorful. Rossitza meets Justin and out of the impossible and one-sided love between a girl from the world of the deaf and a boy in the hearing world, their dance is born. Is it possible for the rhythm of the heart, which leads them in their beautiful dances to bring them together off stage as well?

    Kind Regards, Rossi.


  1. By on June 28, 2012 at 7:00 pm

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“While all the other arts were born naked, [film], the youngest, has been born fully-clothed. It can say everything before it has anything to say. It is as if the savage tribe, instead of finding two bars of iron to play with, had found scattering the seashore fiddles, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, grand pianos by Erhard and Bechstein, and had begun with incredible energy, but without knowing a note of music, to hammer and thump upon them all at the same time.”

--Virginia Woolf