My husband is always dragging me to movies. “Dragging” is probably overstating the case, but I’m not much of a movie goer left to my own devices. Furthermore, my tastes in movies when I do go, are solidly middle brow (does anyone say that any more?), whereas his are all over the map. If it weren’t for my husband, I never would have seen Map of the Human Heart or Amelie. On the other hand, I also wouldn’t have seen Bridesmaids or 21 Jump Street, the film.
I wasn’t expecting to like 21 Jump Street when my husband suggested seeing it, but I asked myself, how bad could it be? Why is it I fail to learn that the answer to that question is generally, “Awful. Horrible. Worse than you think”?
Unlike the television drama series on which it is based, 21 Jump Street purports to be a comedy. The movie starts with us meeting two high school classmates, one a jock named Greg Jenko and the other a geek with braces named Morton Schmidt. We see them first on the day in which Schmidt gets rejected while trying to ask his beautiful neighbor to the prom and Jenko gets told by his guidance counselor that he can’t go to the prom, despite being elected prom king, due to his poor grades. The next time they meet, they are both at the police academy, where Jenko is having trouble with coursework and Schmidt with athletics. They team up to help each other, graduate and are put on park patrol, where their dreams of making a big bust are spoiled by Jenko forgetting the words to the Miranda warning.
For some reason, this error qualifies them to be assigned to an undercover squad working out of an old church on Jump Street. I’ve always been under the impression that undercover work requires a lot of skill and experience, but this is movie world. Not only are they assigned to an undercover job trying to find the distributor of drugs at a local high school, but they are told to live at Schmidt’s parents house (under assumed names) while doing so. If you think that might make it hard to maintain their cover, you're right.
At this point I began to feel like I was taking some of the drugs, what with reality and I having parted ways somewhere around the opening credits. I’ll make a long story short. This is a bad movie. Avoid it. Save your money. Or use it to buy lottery tickets.
The only reason I’m writing about the movie at all is that there was one moment that made me sad for the movie it maybe could have been. When they arrive at the high school, Jenko forgets which brother he is supposed to be and gives the principal the wrong name. As a result, he is assigned to an advanced placement chemistry class while Schmidt is assigned to a drama class just as the role of Peter Pan in the class play is being recast. A series of improbable events leads to Schmidt being accepted by the popular crowd (one of whom is the drug dealer) while Jenko is befriended by the geeks who show him the fun side of science (and help him bug the dealer’s phone). At one point, Jenko looks at Schmidt in surprise that their roles have been reversed, as if he realizes that his being the popular kid in high school was as much a matter of luck as it was of who he is. Channing Tatum, who up to this point in the movie had given no indication of acting talent, managed to convey that in one moment with the expression on his face.
Or maybe I was hallucinating. But it’s a shame, because the audience this movie was intended for (I’m guessing middle school boys) probably could use the message that who you are in high school isn't who you are for the rest of your life. I don’t think the movie would have been improved by trying to hit them over the head with it, but possibly if there had been a half dozen or so fewer car chases, explosions, pratfalls, improbable coincidences and cliches, that one moment would have been a lot more effective.
But there weren’t. So if you are over the age of 13, avoid this movie. Go see something else.