By Roger Moore McClatchy-Tribune News Service
It was a simpler time, when Johnny Depp was new to Tiger Beat, when hair metal still ruled the airwaves and when Fox was an infant TV network with a bare handful of series: “The Simpsons,” “America’s Most Wanted” and this silly cop confection called “21 Jump Street.”
Now, that teen-friendly cop show has been updated and unleashed in the post “Hangover” era, when no joke is out of bounds, no language is too profane, no riff on drugs or sex is too extreme.
You’d expect a big-screen version of “21 Jump Street,” the TV series that made Depp famous, to be a joke. And it is: a raunchy, violent and potty-mouthed farce that straddles the middle ground between “Starsky &Hutch” and “Superbad.” It’s “Project X” with pistols.
The cute young cops here aren’t Tiger Beat-cute the way Depp and co-stars Holly Robinson and Peter DeLuise were. And they’re self-aware. They’re incompetent, and they know it. New to the force, they haven’t even memorized the Miranda Rights speech.
“They always cut away on TV before they finish!” Jenko (Channing Tatum) complains.
In high school, he was the popular, handsome jock who “didn’t learn a thing” during his years there. Poor Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was the insecure, nonathletic brainiac who always choked when the chips were down, asking a girl to the prom, for instance. Jenko used to pick on Schmidt.
But when they help each other get through the police academy, they become best buds. And being, as the captain in charge (Ice Cube) puts it, “Justin Bieber/ Miley Cyrus-looking,” they’re naturals for the revival of an old program, putting baby-faced cops back into high school to hunt down the dealers and suppliers of a deadly new drug, HFS.
But the idiots botch their assumed identities. Schmidt is now the alleged jock, Jenko the brains. And high school has changed in the seven years since they graduated. The enviro-nerd (Dave Franco) is king of the cool kids. Caring about schoolwork is cool, drama club is cool and picking on a gay kid isn’t.
And even though they only have three basic rules to adhere to — find the supplier, don’t get expelled and don’t sleep with students or faculty — Jenko and Schmidt, alias Doug and Chad, screw things up.
Hill does his usual chubby-white-kid-talking-ghetto smack. But Tatum (“The Vow”), given the chance to cut up and cut loose, dives into this head-first, mocking his good looks and playing the male bimbo thing to the max.
Jenko’s report to the captain about high school today being the reverse of when jocks like him ran the show is angry, wounded and hilarious. “It’s backward and wrong and it must be stopped!”
And joking about how lame it is to recycle formulas, stereotypes and movie cliches doesn’t excuse you from using them as crutches, one after the other.
“21 Jump Street” (2 stars)
Remake of TV’s “21 Jump Street” is raunchy, violent and cliche-ridden. Making jokes about it doesn’t excuse it. Starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who go back to high school.
Rated: R, for crude and sexual content, Pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence.
Showing: Alderwood, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Metro, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.