Nostalgia Doesn’t Help 21 Jump Street Remake

Jonah Hill's predictable performance and crude script are the movie's downfall.

Here’s the sad truth: Many who go to see 21 Jump Street won’t have any clue that it’s actually based on a TV show. The phrase “I said jump, down on Jump Street” will mean absolutely nothing to them. (Nor incite an urge to shout “jump.”) The connection between this movie and Johnny Depp will be lost. They’ll be confused why some audience members cheer at the brief cameo of Holly Robinson (Peete). They will not know who Richard Grieco is. (To be fair, many of us have also forgotten.) But it doesn’t matter. Those women (and some men) who had the Johnny Depp poster up in their rooms—smoldering eyes, denim vest, and all—will appreciate the nostalgia; the rest will laugh at the dick jokes.

In the cinematic remake, Jonah Hill (also co-writer) and Channing Tatum play two hapless, bike-riding cops. When a bust goes wrong, they’re reassigned to an old undercover unit recently reopened—housed in an abandoned church at 21 Jump Street. Posing as teenagers, they must go undercover to infiltrate and to bring down a drug ring at a local high school.

With undercover assignments, an abandoned church, a no-nonsense Captain (played by Ice Cube), much is similar to the original. However, while the show catered to a much younger audience, the R-rated movie’s target audience is older. There is violence, but the rating has all to do with the language. Apparently, writers Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall think “dick” is the funniest word in English language. In Jump Street, it is used in almost every scene. Like the line: “Do you want me to beat your dick off?” Or, “If I have to suck a dick, I will.” Characters call each other dicks. They’re told to suck a dick. Hell, Ice Cube’s name is Captain Dickson. In one scene, a character even gets his dick shot off. (Which, I guess, is supposed to be funny). This is not to say that “dick” and “fuck” (which is also liberally used) can’t be funny. But with their almost Tourettic use, the screenplay feels completely sophomoric—that is to say, things that only a 16-year-old boy would find hilarious.

Unlike his svelte appearance, Hill’s performance is expected—an embodiment of all the awkward, nerdy, weak characters he’s played for the last seven years. It is Tatum that is surprising. Usually relegated to action and sometimes romance, he is able to let loose. But while his acting is not always polished—it always looks like he’s on the verge of laughter—you can’t help but enjoy the performance. (His random, tweaked-out destruction of band practice is particularly funny.)

Beneath its crude exterior, there are many smart and genuinely funny ideas; namely, it’s self-referential mocking of remakes and pretty awesome cameos. (Also, who couldn’t love a bike gang called the “1 Percenters”?) And though it does succeed in comparison to other remakes—e.g., Starsky and Hutch, Dukes of Hazzard, Land of the Lost—it’s incessant, juvenile dialogue simply gets in the way.

My Grade: C+