Criminals in movies often elude prosecution because a vigilante cop doesn’t bother to tell them their Miranda Rights.
But “21 Jump Street” puts a new spin on this cliché: The cops are so dumb and inept they don’t actually know the Miranda Rights.
That’s generally the formula for this big-screen version of the 1987-’91 TV show. The comedy revels in putting dumb and/or inept spins on cinematic formulas. It results in a shoddy movie, but one that is bad in rather interesting ways.
“I really thought this job would have more car chases and explosions, and less homeless people doo-dooing everywhere,” says officer Jenko (Channing Tatum).
Dumb jock Jenko and nerdy partner Schmidt (Jonah Hill, a long way from “Moneyball”) met in high school as enemies. But while struggling at the police academy, they join forces: Schmidt helps Jenko get passing grades, and the reverse proves true during the physical training.
But then come those Miranda wrongs, and they’re placed into a program where younger officers go undercover at a high school plagued by a deadly new synthetic drug.
One of their supervisors (“Parks and Recreation’s” Nick Offerman) explains, “They’re teenagers. They’re really stupid. You should blend right in.”
They find that school has changed quite a bit in the seven years since their graduation. Sensitivity and environmental consciousness are all the rage, which leaves the swaggering Jenko dumbfounded. Also confusing matters — and the film’s best plot device — is the pair’s transcripts get mixed up, so Jenko has to pretend he’s the brainy dweeb and Schmidt the popular athlete.
“21 Jump Street” makes a complete tonal shift from the teen television drama. Instead, it offers the raunchy, improv-on-the-spot comedy that epitomizes (and often sinks) Will Ferrell’s big-screen flicks.
The movie — which is ostensibly written by Michael Bacall (the superior “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) — never passes up an opportunity to wallow in gross-out visual gags or throw in three lewd tirades when none would have sufficed.
There’s a sense of desperation to some of the humor, particularly when the supporting characters are involved. Ice Cube gives his all-time worst performance (especially compared to his recent fine work in “Rampart”) as a parody of the Shouting Black Police Captain.
The surrealistic bits play much better, as when the pair are forced to sample the synthetic drug HFS and then must finish the rest of the day’s class schedule. They try to act non-stoned around the pushy track coach (KC’s Rob Riggle) but end up viewing him as all manner of freakish manifestations.
Hill and Tatum work pretty well together. And the often-maligned Tatum (“Haywire”) finds a fresh spin on the Dumb Handsome Guy routine. They deserve a better movie than “21 Jump Street” — one that could more truthfully explore how their young cop characters reinvent themselves when given the opportunity to repeat high school.
As Jenko tells Schmidt: “You’re in too deep. Yesterday I found a college application on your desk.”WHERE’S JOHNNY?
Johnny Depp’s cameo in the movie adaptation of “21 Jump Street” has been well-known since shooting began. But how he appears has been a closely guarded secret.
Stars Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ice Cube, along with co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, talked about the mood on the set the day Depp came to shoot his big scene:
Phil Lord: “If there were a cameo, the idea was always to have it hidden in plain sight. If there were such things in the movie.”
Chris Miller: “Did you know that um, we can’t say much more.”
Jonah Hill: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Lord: “Our big idea was ‘Let’s have a close-up and no one will even know!’ ”
Ice Cube: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Miller: “We really can’t say any more.”
Channing Tatum: “Don’t make me say it to you! I don’t want to say it — OK. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”