Let's Rush To Judgment: '21 Jump Street' : Monkey See There's a new movie with Jonah Hill based on an old TV show with Johnny Depp. Figure that out.
NPR logo Let's Rush To Judgment: '21 Jump Street'

Let's Rush To Judgment: '21 Jump Street'


The original 21 Jump Street, which aired on Fox from 1987 to 1991, might well be entirely forgotten, but for one thing: It was the first place most of us saw Johnny Depp, in the role of Officer Tom Hanson.

21 Jump Street was a Stephen J. Cannell show. One of the most influential and prolific TV producers ... well, ever, Cannell also created or co-created The Rockford Files, Baretta, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Wiseguy -- he was essentially the master of '70s and '80s action shows with anywhere from a sprinkle to a dousing of humor. But 21 Jump Street wasn't a goofy comedy; this is where Depp's brooding face become famous, after all. It was a cop show.

Now, as re-imagined by screenwriters Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall (who co-wrote the screenplay for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), the loose premise of the show — cops sent undercover as high school students — is transformed into an opportunity for Hill to apparently make parts of Superbad again.

I like the idea of Hill working with Channing Tatum, who was well-known as a steamy model before getting a lot of movie work playing stiffs in bad or so-bad-they're-good films like Step Up and G.I. Joe: The Rise Of COBRA. (The best-known exception being Kimberly Peirce's well-reviewed Stop-Loss.)

My concern about this trailer is that almost none of the jokes make me laugh. I get what they're going for; I could like this movie. It's not Adam Sandler in drag, where I feel like even if they did it perfectly, I'd hate it. Buddy cop movies are not just valuable; they're essential. And there's an early scene where their stern boss is played by Nick Offerman of Parks And Recreation, who should be every stern boss in every movie if the world is to be a fair and just place. And that exchange, about the Miranda warnings, is funny. But then they go off on assignment, and all the high-school stuff just looks ... terrible.

(This is as good a time as any to put it right out there that I have had enough sequences involving people getting drugged inadvertently or involuntarily to last me the rest of my life. "Look at him; he's stoned and he doesn't know it!" is a comedic trope that has about two percent of the charm its purveyors think it has. So enough with that.)

The parts of the film that show promise are the silliest parts — I love the doves. If it's all doves, we're good. But a movie that's all drinking and partying and dancing and "WOOOOO!" just isn't the highest and best use of these guys.