We all know that a good education helps you go further. So in a way it just makes sense that Schmidt and Jenko—two fledging cops stuck in a less-than-glamorous park beat—might want to take a few classes here and there to move up the ranks.
But high school classes? When they've already graduated?
Welcome to 21 Jump Street, where cops masquerade as high school kids to take a bite outta crime—and the lunchroom casserole.
Granted, it's not exactly a new idea, as the police chief wearily admits. It's a program reboot—one that suggests the department is out of ideas. "All they do now is recycle s‑‑‑ from the past and hope no one notices," the chief explains.
For their part, Schmidt and Jenko just hope no one looks too closely at the school's old yearbooks. The duo graduated only six years earlier—not that they hung out much. Schmidt was a geeky brain, Jenko a dumb jock, and the only time their paths crossed was if Jenko thought Schmidt was in need of a wedgie.
But times change and the two are the best of friends now, ready to relive and possibly improve upon their high school days. Jenko even gives Schmidt tips on how to be one of the cool kids: Don't ever show interest in anything. Make fun of people who do. Drive a rad car. And … well, that's about it.
But once they get there, they find that high school's changed a bit. The cool kids ride around on bicycles (better for the environment) and actually care about the world around them. They think organized sports (which Jenko excelled in) are "fascist." Suddenly, Schmidt's in with the in clique, and Jenko's hanging out with the science nerds.
What gives? And will their relationship stand the strain? Will Schmidt finally take a girl to prom? Will Jenko learn the periodic table by heart? Oh yeah, and weren't they supposed to solve some sort of a crime?
We get the sense that Schmidt and Jenko truly care about each other. When Jenko tells Schmidt that he would take a bullet for him, we know he means it—and later on he proves it.
Just what's located at the actual (fictional) address of 21 Jump Street? A Korean church wherein baby-faced undercover cops gather to discuss their exploits and be yelled at by gruff Capt. Dickson. The sanctuary's focal point is an Oriental-looking Christ figure on the cross, hand outstretched to touch a dove. Schmidt and others call it Korean Jesus, and before embarking on his new assignment, Schmidt offers what appears to be a sincere but profane prayer to the corpus. "I'm sorry for swearing so much," he prays. "The end."
Audiences walk in on a threesome; from the side a man and two women are shown tangled up together nude.
Schmidt becomes smitten with Molly, an 18-year-old student. The two kiss and flirt, and Schmidt sends her a disturbingly sexual picture via cellphone. The two talk about various body parts. She's also involved with Eric, another boy at school. But Eric tells Schmidt that while they occasionally engage in oral sex, they're not together.
A drunk high school girl tries to unzip Jenko's pants in order to perform oral sex on him. A female chemistry teacher crushes on him, making (often subconsciously) suggestive come-ons. Later, after his cover's blown, Jenko and the teacher are shown having sex. (Sexual movements and sounds are featured.)
Much is made of Jenko's presumed sexual experience and Schmidt's lack of said experience in high school. At a party, revelers draw an ejaculating penis on a picture of Schmidt when he was 8, labeling it with the kinds of words so often seen in grungy convenience store bathroom stalls. Schmidt makes lewd gestures with a relay baton. Someone makes a passing reference to incest. The movie makes it look as if three high school boys are involved in a hook-up with hookers in a bathroom stall. (In reality, they're setting up impromptu surveillance.)
Jenko and Schmidt are clearly heterosexual, but that doesn't stop the screenplay from taking their friendship and jokingly twisting it into something else entirely. The two mimic sexual acts with captured thugs and each other. And one joke evokes the inability to climax. In an attempt to intimidate, Jenko mistakenly makes a homosexual come-on to an evildoer.
Someone's penis is shot off, and the wounded party picks up the appendage with his mouth. Someone else laments that, as part of an undercover op, he was require to tattoo his penis. A drug dealer worries about what might happen to him in prison. "It rhymes with grape!" he blurts.
Schmidt, Jenko and a host of bad guys get into a huge gunfight wherein several people lose their lives. One guy gets shot through the neck, blood pulsing out of the wound. Another survives several bullets to the chest by way of a protective vest. (He's shown bleeding from his arm.) Still another is shot in the groin.
At a party, Schmidt and Jenko duke it out with several ruffians until Schmidt takes the leader down by smashing a decorative pot over his head. Schmidt gets stabbed, and we see the blade being taken out and the wound cleaned.
A cross-town chase with bikers leads to one rider having his legs crushed by an oncoming vehicle. Another motorcycle gangster is hit by a car and then in turn stomps all over it. An explosion takes out a truck full of chickens. Another flambés a pair of bad guys in a limo.
Jenko and Schmidt practice getting hit by a car; Schmidt's injured in the process. Jenko slams Schmidt down on a mat during wrestling training and battles him onstage during a high school play. Maliferous types tackle and are tackled by cops. Schmidt fires bullets in the air, scaring people. He also pushes down an elderly woman in an effort to keep her from blowing his cover.
Crude or Profane Language
The script is plastered with about 125 f-words and at least 70 s-words. There are generous uses of "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑." Vulgar and obscene words reference genitals and sex acts. God's name is abused around 20 times, at least seven of which are paired with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused two or three times. The n-word crops up a few more than that.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Schmidt and Jenko are out to bust a drug ring, but that doesn't keep them from using and distributing alcohol and drugs themselves. They throw a party to try to cozy up to the cool kids, buying veritable vats of beer and stealing a sizable bag of marijuana from police evidence lockup to "entertain" the underage attendees. Where's their ethical line in the sand? At cocaine. Schmidt tells Jenko not to take a brick-sized bag of it, saying they just want to show the kids a good time, not mess up their lives.
Additionally, the young cops are forced to take the synthetic drug they're trying to track down. While under its influence, the two disrupt school, hallucinate and drool before falling asleep. We see others use it too—exhibiting extraordinary confidence and aggression. We learn that one boy died after taking it.
Schmidt and Jenko try to bust bikers for smoking pot in the park. And when they search a gang member's motorcycle, they find a white substance someone refers to as "real drugs." A teacher tells a wildly inappropriate story about doing cocaine with Willie Nelson's horse.
Other Negative Elements
Jenko and Schmidt break several rules set forth by their boss, from not serving alcohol to minors, to not getting "involved" with students and/or teachers. Students jailbreak someone's phone.
Schmidt makes a show of chafing under his parents' rules, telling a kid, "You're so lucky your parents don't give a s‑‑‑ about you." Jenko punches a boy he learns is gay, and is accused of homophobia. Schmidt defends his partner, saying it would've been homophobic for him to not hit the kid simply because he was gay.
Defecation is a huge topic of conversation. Jenko and Schmidt complain about park duty, as it largely consists of dealing with dog-poop violations. After getting hit by a car (remember, they're practicing their technique), Schmidt says he likely soiled his pants. Dickson threatens his charges with a disgusting act involving a snorkel.
Someone throws up. A visual gag involves purging.
The original 21 Jump Street, a TV cop procedural that aired on Fox, holds the distinction of jump-starting the career of one Johnny Depp. My sister and I grew up in the 1980s, when that show was about the closest thing to a hit the fledgling network had. A huge poster of Johnny Depp hung on her bedroom door, and I imagined she looked at it for hours on end, fluttering her eyelids at it every now and then.
It was, at the time, a hip but fairly rote show—not known to press up against too many boundaries and always apt to end its stories with a cogent moral or two. It sometimes even offered up full-blown public service announcements presented by its stars.
This movie iteration doesn't go quite that far. OK, it doesn't go in that direction at all. There's no "just say no to drugs" message here or "don't have sex before you're married." It's nice that the kids care for the environment and all … but given the fact that some of them turn out to be drug dealers sort of undercuts the point.
No, this new incarnation of 21 Jump Street punts the morals and goes for the gags—in terms of both situation-based laughs and gross-out giggles. And on both counts, it's successful.
Jonah Hill (Schmidt) and Channing Tatum (Jenko) make this a funny and, at times, oddly tender buddy-cop movie. Following them around are a few nice messages about friendship … and what can happen to your friendship when your priorities get out of whack.
But since we're talking about whacked-out priorities, I suppose we could put this whole movie in that basket. 21 Jump Street isn't the most egregious rated-R movie I've seen even this month (no thank you, Project X), but it's still problematic on so many different levels it's amazing its makers had space to get any clean laughs in at all.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jonah Hill as Schmidt; Channing Tatum as Jenko; Brie Larson as Molly Tracey; Dave Franco as Eric Molson; Rob Riggle as Mr. Walters; DeRay Davis as Domingo; Ice Cube as Captain Dickson
Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs)
March 16, 2012
Paul Asay Paul Asay