At the Movies: 21 Jump Street

It was the late ’80s and I was channel surfing one night and I stopped for a second to watch a young man with a stopwatch staring at a convenience store videotape. He was a pretty boy, but he was clearly obsessed about something. I couldn’t stop watching. It was all strangely compelling.

The show was “21 Jump Street.” The pretty boy was Johnny Depp. The episode was “Orpheus 3.3.” I can’t remember what I had for dinner two days ago but I remember the name of a TV show that I saw once 20-some years ago. It left an impact.

I had heard of “21 Jump Street” but I’d never watched it. It was on that weird, upstart channel Fox that was trying too hard to appeal to the youth demographic. “Jump Street” was about a quartet of cops whose looks were deemed youthful enough for them to work undercover at high schools and other places where young troublemakers hang out. It just sounded stupid.

But there was something about that episode that made me come back and before you know it I was hooked. Oh, it wasn’t particularly the writing. The show often came off as an “Afterschool Special” dealing with the popular teen problem of the day. What drew me in was the cast, especially the friendship between officers Tom Hansen (Depp) and Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise). That and my crush on Holly Robinson. And that really peppy theme song.

I wasn’t all that excited about a new movie version of “21 Jump Street.” It wouldn’t be the same without the original cast and what pretty boy could they find to replace Depp. Then I found out they cast Jonah Hill as the lead. Not really a Johnny Depp type. Then I found out it was going to be a comedy. Not really “21 Jump Street’s” style. While there were probably a few comedy episodes over the years, if anything the show was oftentimes too serious. This did not bode well.

Still, the movie was screening at The Mills, which is close to home, and the studios rarely screen movies close to home so I should support them when they do. If this had been screening at Ronnie’s, I wouldn’t have bothered. Especially as we’re approaching $4 a gallon gas.

Is that enough preliminaries for you? Let’s get to the review already.

“21 Jump Street” is a very funny and entertaining movie. I’m as surprised as you are.

The story begins in 2005, the final year of high school for nerd Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular-but-dumb Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum). After high school they both wind up at the police academy where they become friends after they realize they need each other’s help to get through it.

The duo are assigned to a defunct program, now restarted, that operates out of an abandoned church on Jump Street (you know the address). Their boss is Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), an angry black man who revels in the stereotype. Schmidt and Jenko are given new identities as brothers and sent to the local high school to break up a drug ring.

High school turns out to be a very different experience the second time around. In this outing Schmidt turns out to belong with the in-crowd while Jenko winds up with the science geeks. This creates friction that eventually spells trouble for the partnership.

While some of the humor is too crude for my tastes (but obviously not the general public’s, given the popularity of R-rated comedies), “21 Jump Street” is a fun, witty movie with heart and some decent action. It’s very different from the source material yet respectful of it. Fans of the TV show should be pleased by a trio of guest appearances.

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