“You shot him in the dick! I’ve never seen that!” Channing Tatum exclaims as Jenks, a rookie cop partnered with the doughy, uncool Schmidt (Jonah
Hill) in 21 Jump Street.
The duo have not outgrown their adolescent rivalry or immature sense of amusement that began in high school. Seven years later (after a police academy training session ridiculously scored to The Clash’s version of Junior Murvin’s reggae classic “Police and Thieves”), they’re sent back to high school as undercover cops. Less audience representatives than pandering role models, they want moviegoers to laugh at class clowns and cop clowns.
This nonsense comes from rebooting the 1980s TV series 21 Jump Street, minus the cop-drama gravitas. Ironically, it exhibits the lowbrow humor currently found on both network and cable TV shows—forms geared to the juvenile taste of 12-year-old boys, the gullible demographic desperately sought after by advertisers. Adults now embrace their
inner brat as a sign of cool, longing for the irresponsibility of childishness. They accept TV mediocrity and smuttiness in movies like Knocked Up, The Hangover and Bridesmaids. The downward spiral continues with 21 Jump Street.
Refashioning TV junk as if it were enriched our cultural heritage, Hollywood diminishes it. As that misappropriated reggae song demonstrates, any possibility that pop culture can address socially, morally, politically important experience is denied. 21 Jump Street’s idiocy is personified in Tatum’s tall-drink-ofretardation, Hill’s rotund schmuck (a role he should have outgrown after David Gordon Green’s The Sitter) and later in a cameo by Johnny Depp, star of the original TV series, who is only fooling himself if he thinks this meta-comic turn is equivalent to Marlon Brando spoofing Don Vito Corleone in The Freshman.
Consider: Brando seized the opportunity to comment upon The Godfather’s cultural phenomenon that proved less conscientious than he had hoped when signing on to its gangster-movie allegory for corporate greed. (Could even Brando’s genius have intuited that The Godfather would inspire a new cultural standard of thievery and ruthlessness that even politicians such as The Sopranos fans Bill and Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama would eventually endorse?)
Tatum, Hill and Depp are less conscientious stars; they simply overlook the consequences when trash ignores the crisis of police brutality—a problem producer Stephen J. Cannell had addressed in his exploitative TV mogul way by giving cop drama a hip-hop spin.
Now the spin is out of control. 21 Jump Street is aggressively stupid farce. Its directing team, Phil Lord and Chris
Miller, can’t cohere the tone of a single scene, jumping from teen sap to grossout humor almost schizophrenically. The relentless hodge-podge resembles a LMFAO music video—without the delirium that gives LMFAO their party-animal style. Frequent video game intertitles steal from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; dance scenes, stunt scenes and explosions are mistimed, while the overly violent shootouts imitate Pineapple Express.
This mess of dishonest intentions and cultural decline epitomizes the lack of sincerity and imagination now passing for entertainment. 21 Jump Street has gotten better reviews than Jack and Jill, probably because it has nothing to do with real experience; because it substitutes narrative development with explosions and uses dick jokes for the repressed tensions of male bonding, as in Tatum’s homoerotic puzzlement when Schmidt befriends a
narc played by Dave Franco.
Perhaps the lowest point is Jenks and Schmidt’s singsong
trivialization of the Miranda rights advisory; it’s insulting to current urban sensitivities and reveals Hollywood’s ongoing juvenile comedy phase to be mindlessly offensive. 21 Jump Street is so obtuse it’s as if the social satire of Hot Fuzz never happened.
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