“I really thought the job would have more chases and explosions,” says the rookie to his partner on bike patrol. Fresh out of the academy, these two incompetent cops get assigned undercover duty in a high school. Seven years earlier, when they truly were twelfth-graders, Schmidt the shlub (Jonah Hill) and Jenko the jock (Channing Tatum) were worlds apart. Now they relive those days and resolve leftover issues in the buddy vehicle “21 Jump Street” that is based on the 1987-1992 Fox TV series co-created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell where Johnny Depp played a Republican rookie on a similar assignment. Advance Placement classes will offer the same challenges. The consistently comic screenplay by Michael Bacall, a co-writer of “Project X” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” observes the duo’s delayed development graduate from arrested adolescence. Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller manage a mature take on immature characters. Grown-up points are made without apology to the lower denominators of action-comedy. Schmidt and Jenko are reckless dolts acting out their law-enforcer fantasies culled from all the TV shows, movies and first-person-shooter games they liked as kids. No doubt they still enjoy them off-duty. The filmmakers score a few uneasy laughs on this point. The first season of the original small-screen series included the line “You’ve seen too many movies,” but that show was not jokey about genre. A character wore a “Just Say No” T-shirt with an implied sneer, but when the cast pointed to a “1-800 COCAINE” helpline sharing their screen at the end of an early episode, that high-school hallway was an irony-free zone. As a riff on entertainment formulas, the “21 Jump Street” of 2012 is more akin to the 2002 cop buddy comedy “Showtime” co-starring Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy as co-stars of their own reality-TV series. With Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube. 109m. (Bill Stamets)
“21 Jump Street” opens Friday.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.