If you absolutely must, there are two ways you can approach the task of remaking an old television series. You can take the premise and revise the tone to match modern sensibilities; this was the option favoured by Michael Mann when he decided to update his own Miami Vice, or you can send up the original; attractive because it’s the cake and eat it option. Nostalgia is served, so too the needs of pubescent gumps who would be inclined to mock the dated original anyway.
Jonah Hill and Project X swear box filler, Michael Bacall, have chosen the latter path; the Dragnet gambit; crafting a comedy sequel to Steven J. Cannell’s popular but over earnest TV series, that saw baby faced undercover cops infiltrate sink high schools and root out bad apples involved in drug, drink and sex crime. Spearheaded by Johnny Depp, who has a funny (and from his point of view, boil lancing) cameo here, the series is remembered for its didactic bent, typical of networked shows of the period. It wasn’t enough for the Jump Street cops to show the kids that buying drugs wasn’t cool, they’d sometimes show up afterwards with a related public service announcement.
Little wonder then, that Hill saw the comic potential in revisiting the series, and accordingly 2012’s visit to Jump Street Chapel is a flippant, foul mouthed and uproarious buddy cop movie that inverts the moral righteousness of the TV show. School’s now crawling with politically correct kids (much to Channing “Chatum” Tatum’s horror), who berate the undercover cops for their casual homophobia and lack of intellectual curiosity. This never happened to the other fellas.
It’s a knowing, often very funny take on the original premise, that makes the most of the comic pairing of Hill and simple lunk, Tatum. Posing as brothers, one amusing scene has the two forgetting who’s who, leading to Hill claiming the wrong identity. This means the original high school swot gets enrolled in drama and sports classes, while the athletic but dim-witted Tatum takes his place with the science geeks in Advanced Chemistry.
If that’s a nice idea, allowing both characters to experience high school from each other’s perspective, there are many more; Ice Cube as the angry black police captain who revels in his status as a movie cliché, action sequences that undercut the expectations of both the audience and action-literate characters, the obvious disparity between the partners’ real ages and those of their assumed identities, remarked on by almost everyone, and for once, a smart tapping up of the R-rating, with numerous “fucks” and genital references serving as a conscious two fingers to the old show’s baby po-face.
All things being equal, that would be that, but 21 Jump Street is also noteworthy for Hill’s wish-fulfilment. He’s much more than a simple proxy for all the overweight and sexually frustrated kids in the audience; he’s lived the nightmare and is now getting some self-penned redress. His character’s second go at High School culminates in the romancing of Brie Larson’s comely Molly, a classmate. Ultimately our adult hero finally gets hooked up, enjoying a new sexual relationship with the 18-year-old school gi- wait, that’s how it ends?