21 Jump Street
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Director: Phil Lord
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21 Jump Street isn’t just another forgettable adaptation of a television program, the disappearance from the cultural radar of which no no one laments.
Mais non! The only interesting thing about this one: how it inadvertently ended up standing on the tarmac red carpet to greet the arrival of Hollywood’s unexpected leading men.
Channing Tatum looks the part. The Hollywood heartthrob of a million female fantasies, he has anchored a string of overperforming rom-coms (Step Up, Dear John, and The Vow). The New York Times wonders if Hollywood can mint him into the answer for its leading man shortage. The real question is whether the Town is going to wake up to find it already has.
Then there’s Jonah Hill. Since Superbad he has developed into the most recognizable Apatow comedy player. And one day, you just look up and realize he’s one of the most famous and bankable young stars out there.
That no one really saw these guys coming is a comfort. That they represent two extremes of Hollywood stardom – the natural and the unlikely – is kind of neat. And in 21 Jump Street they slip into those two pigeonholes nicely. Tatum is the high school quarterback who everyone would expect to be a star. Hill is the chunky nerd whose popularity no one would predict. That natural tension is used to good comic effect, as a police force odd couple set to relive their high school years as undercover narcotics officers.
21 Jump Street was a short-lived Fox television show from the Pre-Simpsons, pre-X-Files time before the network ever had a hit. Its sole distinction was launching the career of Johnny Depp. If the point of “TV adaptations” is to capture a show’s built-in audience, then you have to wonder about the wisdom of making one from a show that no one watched.
The film shares very little in common with the show, from what little I care to recall. The film returns Tatum and Hill to high school, where the social life has changed, along with their social standing. The nerd rules the modern high school, the film insists. The dumb jock gets picked on for being a dumb jock. 21 Jump Street announces that the American high school has evolved into Glee.
21 Jump Street really is a jackhammer of Hollywood soullessness. It’s a disaster, but Hollywood has become talented at disguising worthlessness for the middle hour. When Jump Street finally runs out of gas toward the end, you sink into the feeling of just how rotten its core really is. Until then, enjoy the star power.