Like another staple of cheesy 80s TV, “The A-Team”, there are those out there who loved “21 Jump Street” (both shows coming from the Stephen J. Cannell factory, I might add), and those who didn’t. And although perhaps not as much as “The A-Team”, I can definitely say I was and still am a fan of “21 Jump Street”. Hell, I still watch it occasionally, and I think the theme song (sung by one of the stars, Holly Robinson, who seemed on the verge of a Whitney Houston thing that never happened) is one of the all-time best. So this review will come from the completely biased POV of a fan, please bear that in mind. Apparently Jonah Hill is a fan of the TV show, too however, I have my doubts after seeing what the star and co-writer of this 2012 flick from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who previously teamed for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”, whilst the latter also directed “Puss in Boots” solo), has done with my beloved TV show. He has basically turned it into “Superbad: The Beginning”. I liked “Superbad” quite a lot, but “21 Jump Street” and “Superbad” are worlds apart, and creating a mock version of something I love, cheesy as the object of my love might be, feels like a personal affront. I was offended, and more importantly, I was completely disappointed. If you take the film as being completely removed from anything “21 Jump Street” related, then there’s some things to enjoy here. But as much as I felt this was really nothing like the show, knowing that it was called “21 Jump Street”, I found it hard to truly enjoy the film, which was co-written by “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” co-writer Michael Bacall (who I have no idea whether or not he was a fan of the show).
The only things present here that relate to the TV show are a few star cameos, the basic concept of cops undercover in high school (and not every episode of the show was about that!), a few character names being based on character names from the TV show, and an absolutely appalling, wretched cover version of the theme song. I hate it when filmmakers use alternate versions of theme songs. Even moreso when it’s a dubstep (at least I think that’s what the kids call it?) cover of a theme song that still rocks in its original form. All that said, I didn’t hate this film, and believe me, I was fully expecting to.
It begins particularly well, I must say. I wasn’t initially sure why the film had to begin with ‘The Real Slim Shady’, but when you see Jonah Hill with a bad dye job, the joke is genuinely funny. Even funnier that the scene is likely set long after that particular song was cool. The braces were a nice touch, too. Channing Tatum, meanwhile, finally finds his calling: Playing brainless douchebags. He’s hilarious here as the kind of guy who, when learning he’ll be impersonating a Chemistry student, asks; ‘Is that the one with the shapes?’. Brilliant. This guy is beyond stupid. But even so, none of this was in any way shape or form “21 Jump Street”. There’s way too much swearing, and dick jokes absolutely aren’t a part of “21 Jump Street”, and naming one of the main characters after Frederic Forrest’s captain from the original series just doesn’t cut it (I was always more of a fan of Steven Williams, his replacement, anyway). It really does feel like the basic skeleton of the show has been grafted onto a spin-off prequel to “Superbad” where we see Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as police academy numbskulls before they became the characters they were in “Superbad”. Throw in a lot of pot-smoking during the writing (and possibly even filming) process, and you get this film. But that is not “21 Jump Street”. Hill and Bacall, have strangely opted to throw in obscure jokes and references to the TV show (even some of the cameos aren’t easy to spot, rendering them almost pointless), but failing to make any more obvious ones, and even then, there’s not many references or in-jokes, really. Meanwhile, giving Ice Cube’s police captain a speech that basically lampoons the idea of this film’s existence, does not excuse its existence. Ice Cube, however, is apt casting and easily the best thing in the film, probably giving his best performance since “Boyz N the Hood”, too. ‘Teenage the fuck up!’, by the way, is hilarious, no matter how profane. It’s just funny. I’ll even let ‘Straight Outta Compton’ slide, even though I think there’s way too much rap and dance music on this film’s soundtrack (Why not an 80s soundtrack, damn it?).
But there’s no reason outside of a commercial one to call this “21 Jump Street”, so why bother, when you’re gonna have a bunch of people who don’t know the show and another bunch who do know the show who will be pissed at you for fucking it up? The idea of going back to high school and not knowing about all of the cliques (which seemed to have changed in the 15 or so years since I graduated, rather dramatically) is interesting, but once again, it’s not “21 Jump Street”, and I wanted “21 Jump Street”, damn it! Hill, being the pothead he is, even throws in an irrelevant drug trip scene, but he unfortunately forgot to make it remotely amusing. Hill is less concerned in making “21 Jump Street” than he is in making a Jonah Hill movie. Hill singing and dancing, however, is genuinely amusing, I’ll grant him that. I also liked that this film asked that age old question: How can you tell if someone is being sarcastic or not, if they have a twitch? And I really can’t hate this film, much as I want to, because it has Channing Tatum at one point exclaim ‘Fuck you, Glee!’. Preach it, sister. Right on! His comment about one of Hill’s childhood photos looking like a young Jay Leno was funny too, because it’s true. I liked the work of Brie Larson in the film, she’s really sweet and cute, and reminds me of a younger and blonde Jenna Fischer. However, the film doesn’t deal with the potentially paedophilic nature of a romantic relationship between a high school student and an undercover cop as deftly as the TV show seemed to, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on (Is Jonah Hill simply creepier than Johnny Depp?).
As I said earlier, the ‘star’ cameos aren’t even as enjoyable as they could’ve been. ***** POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING ***** It’s great to see Holly Robinson-Peete, but that’s partly because I hadn’t heard about her cameo in advance. It’s a shame Dustin Nguyen didn’t turn up, as we only get him on a TV screen showing clips of him from the TV show. Surely his schedule isn’t that full these days? The cameos by Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise are especially disappointing. I’m glad Depp insisted on DeLuise turning up, but the directors clearly didn’t give a fuck, because for their big reveal, only Depp is shown taking his disguise off, with DeLuise barely getting a look in on the edge of the screen for a split second. As far as I’m concerned, Peter DeLuise was always the star of that show, not Johnny Depp, but I guess I’m the only one of that opinion. Still, I found it quite disrespectful, and the cameo is pretty stupid anyway given how little time we see them without their disguises. It’s a botched joke. And where the fuck was Steven Williams? Was he even asked? The dude’s awesome, and still alive, so he should’ve been here. ***** END SPOILER *****
This isn’t “21 Jump Street”. It’s a mediocre, semi-watchable prequel/spin-off to “Superbad”, but with a hotter guy than Michael Cera and the swearing and penis gags aren’t nearly as funny this time out. The laughs pretty much dry up halfway actually, as the film finally (too late) starts to take itself (too) seriously. If you simply must do a comedy version of “21 Jump Street”, at least make the laughs consistent, for cryin’ out loud, half-and-half is just confusing.
Not a bad film at all, but definitely a missed opportunity. Better than I expected, but nowhere near good enough. Perhaps there wouldn’t have been enough demand for a straight film version of this, in our era of cornering the biggest audience possible. However, I review films from my perspective, not someone else’s, and I was not especially entertained by this, overall. If you want comedy, watch “Superbad”. If you want “21 Jump Street”, watch the TV show. After this and “The A-Team”, I swear if Hollywood even thinks of fucking with “The Wonder Years”...Just don’t. Hell, it’ll probably end up being a tap-dancing version with puppets or something, at this rate.