DVD Release Date: June 26, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: March 16, 2012
Rating: R (for crude and strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug material and usage, teen drinking, and violence)
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 109 min.
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following review contains references to and discussion of very mature subject matter. Parents please advised.

In the late ‘80s, the fledgling Fox Network had a breakout hit with 21 Jump Street, sort of a Miami Vice for the 16-to-24 demographic. Over four seasons it defined cool for high school and college-age young adults, and made Johnny Depp a sex symbol (a status his talents would eventually parlay into full-fledged stardom). 

So twenty years later—at a time when old properties are routinely flipped into feature film franchises—the fact that it’d be the target of a motion picture reboot comes as little surprise; one wonders what actually took them so long. Maybe it was in deciding what angle they should actually take on it, and that’s where the surprise comes in. 

Rather than updating the series with twenty-first century bling, they’ve dropped it into a new genre entirely: The Raunchy Comedy. The studio’s obviously going for that Superbad-size audience (which explains why they cast one of that film’s stars), and it might get it, but it’ll be in spite of the fact that this vulgar spin is just, well, super bad.

The premise remains the same, but little else. Young-looking L.A. cops are assigned to the 21 Jump Street precinct where they’re sent out as undercover agents to high schools and universities, infiltrating youth-driven criminal activity. It’s also intentionally set in the same universe of the late-‘80s series as a few (though not all—sorry die-hards) original cast members pop up in clever cameos.

Taking the place of the previous starring duo of Depp and Peter DeLuise is the oddball coupling of hunk Channing Tatum (The Vow) and schlub Jonah Hill (Moneyball). Former classmates themselves from opposite sides of the social sphere—Tatum’s Jenko being the jock, Hill’s Schmidt the nerd—the pair is now a new set of recruits fresh out of police boot camp, finding few thrills on the bike beat in neighborhood parks. That all changes at Jump Street where this green team is thrown back into high school to take down a drug ring.

In one of maybe two inspired ideas in an otherwise entirely lazy screenplay, what passes for cool has changed since Jenko and Schmidt’s time. The socially conscious hipsters that Jenko used to mock are now the popular clique and so, unexpectedly, Schmidt finds acceptance by the in-crowd this time around while Jenko’s status is out on the geeky fringe. Yet even while Jenko struggles to find his place with the dweebs, much of the alleged humor is played as Schmidt’s long-overdue high school wish fulfillment experience (with Jenko as coach and wingman).

To say that 21 Jump Street is a raunchy comedy would be to assign too much nuance and complexity to what’s going on here. “Raunchy” would be an adjective to describe a style of comedy. Sadly, this is much more base than even that. Raunch isn’t infused into the comedy, it is the comedy. Sex is the comedy. Profanity is the comedy. 

Whether you’re offended by such material is actually beside the point. The biggest insult comes in the expectation that we’re supposed to laugh simply because somebody uses coarse language or makes an explicit sexual reference (whether verbally or visually).

Forget wit or actually being funny; a series of f-words seasoned with a grab-bag of crass epithets is supposed to elicit laughs simply because they’re delivered so outlandishly. Oh my, cops are simulating hardcore sex acts on a drug perp—isn’t that hilarious?! And they’re doing it in public!! Officers are partying with teenagers while making crude and offensive sexual jokes, while walking in on group sex, but it’s okay cuz it’s their job—ha ha!

Granted, outrageousness has a long tradition in comedy but this is just, well, brainless. Or more aptly put it is, in a word, desperate. Embarrassingly so. It all culminates in the most shameful laugh-grab I’ve probably ever seen when not only does the drug dealer’s dismembered genital lay on the ground after it’s been shot off—but he actually stoops down to pick it up with his mouth. Who knows, maybe I’m just an old fogie that time has passed but I think the stupidity speaks for itself.

For those of you who were big fans of the family-affirming animated movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and were looking forward to what the directing duo behind that effort would do as a follow-up, well, this is it. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have gone from embracing families to offending them in one fell swoop, not to mention seriously downgrading any sense of comedic standards. 

Channing Tatum, who has been impressive in both action films and romantic dramas, is a complete dud here with no aptitude for comedy (though the material isn’t the fairest test, to be sure). Jonah Hill’s talents are still on display; the guy is funny, period. It’s just that those talents are completely wasted here. It really does come down to the material; one has to look no further than Hill’s recent hosting gig on Saturday Night Live where one five-minute sketch packed more laughs than this nearly two-hour lump of depravity.

The only sophisticated aspect to the release of this juvenile fratboys-as-cops silliness is its timing. The theatrical run is in mulitplexes just as rowdy Spring Breakers will be looking for a diversion from the binging, and by the time it hits DVD it’ll be the next year of college, with campuses being about the only place 21 Jump Street will have any sort of perpetual afterlife. Too bad all the thinking behind this movie was involved in the selling rather than the making.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Drug and alcohol content on several occasions. Narcotics are taken, and results are played for comedic effect. Pot is smoked. Cocaine consumed. The effects of drug usage are played for comedy rather than taken seriously. A lot of drinking, particularly with teenagers at parties. Partying is portrayed as cool and something to be desired.
  • Language/Profanity: Pervasive language, both with profane curse words as well as sexually crass terms, phrases, and topics. All forms of swear words used liberally throughout (f-word, s-Word, a-Word, SOB, Lord’s name in vain, etc.; the f-word is even used in a prayer) as well as sexually-charged words and terms (b-Word, slang for male and female genitalia, crude references to cleavage, etc.).  Sexual orientation epithets. The language is a filthy as you’re likely to hear in a movie.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: A brief shot of a three-way sexual encounter between two women and a man; all three are naked. A shot of heated sexual intercourse in a supply closet. Crude references to/slang for oral sex. A dismembered penis is seen on the ground; a man tries to pick it up with his mouth. Cops simulate oral and anal sex on a drug perp, in public.
  • Violence: Gun-play, with some victims receiving bloody/gory shots to body, neck, and head.
  • Other: A Christ-crucifix is irreverently referred to as “Korean Jesus.”