On Blu-Ray: 21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Sony Pictures, 2012
Having been at most four years old during the original run of the 21 Jump Street TV series, I missed out on whatever charms the show may have had (I was, however, lucky enough to be conscious for later seasons of Full House, so please, don’t cry for my loss). I gather it’s remembered mostly for launching the career of actor-cum-Tim Burton paper doll Johnny Depp and not much else – hardly the stuff of warm and fuzzy TV memories. And yet, Hollywood insists that I love nostalgia, even when I know nothing about the nostalgic object in question, and so in that sense a feature film adaptation of 21 Jump Street is hardly shocking.
What is shocking is how the movie is so much better than it had any right to be. Jonah Hill (who also nabs a story credit) and Channing Tatum star as young cops, nerd and jock respectively, taken off their cushy beat following a bungled arrest. The pair is reassigned to go undercover in local high schools as part of the 21 Jump Street program. Or, as their superior informs them in one of my favorite of the movie’s jokes, “We’re reviving a cancelled undercover project from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they’ve run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle shit from the past and hope that nobody will notice.” Together, they return to a wildly different high school world with drastically reversed social standings, in order to find the supplier of a new synthetic drug.
Nothing about 21 Jump Street on paper would suggest how smart and funny the finished product is. The biggest surprise is Channing Tatum, an actor I’ve previously considered to be the thespian equivalent of a pleasant end-table, who mixes heretofore unseen comic talent with bro-ish charm and somehow still manages to have great chemistry with Jonah Hill – honestly, theaters are clogged with romantic leads who can’t muster the level of compatibility Hill and Channing display here. The supporting players, including Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle and Ice Cube, are all perfectly cast and keep the plot and jokes rolling along briskly.
21 Jump Street’s recent Blu-ray release provides an ideal way to experience the movie. Sony’s transfer is flawless, with no evidence of any negative tampering effects. The general look of the film is a little dark, but nothing suggests it shouldn’t be that way. The audio gets increasingly involved as the action sequences become more prevalent, and by the end atmospheric noise and heavy bass both get strong workouts.
The slate of bonus features isn’t terribly expansive, but all suffice. The most worthwhile extras include an enjoyable it not intensely informative audio commentary (Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller), a gag reel, twenty deleted scenes (most of which could be more accurately labelled as alternate scenes, but I quibble), and a brief feature about Johnny Depp’s surprise cameo near the film’s end. Oh, you didn’t know that Johnny Depp has a surprise cameo near the film’s end? Well, Sony apparently doesn’t care and made full mention of it on the packaging. This strikes me as incredibly annoying. No movie should ever have a spoiler listed in the special features. It makes about as much sense as Citizen Kane listing “It Was His Sled: The Secret Meaning of Rosebud” as a bonus on the back cover, and no movie, drama or comedy, should do that.
Such ill-conceived labelling aside, 21 Jump Street remains a great buy. The movie’s audio-visual qualities are unlikely to ever be better on the format, and the film itself boasts snappy writing, genuinely funny material, and winning chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. All of this elevates the result far above its TV-turned-movie brethren and makes for a comedy that is easily one of the best of the year and definitely deserves to be seen by even the most nostalgia-overloaded viewer.