21 Jump Street isn’t just another forgettable adaptation of a television program, the disappearance of which no one laments.
Mais non! The only interesting thing about this one is how it inadvertently ended up on the 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 wondered if Hollywood can mint him into the answer for its leading-man shortage.
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 noone 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 plays Jenko, a high-school quarterback who everyone would expect to be a star. Hill’s Schmidt is the chunky nerd whose popularity noone would predict. That natural tension is used to good comic effect, as a police-force odd couple sets 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. Iif 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 sees the American high-school evolve 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.
IN TOMORROW’S EDITION, read Sam Weisberg’s review of 21 Jump Street.