'Jump Street' starts strong, falters late

"21 Jump Street"
Columbia Pictures
1 hour, 49 minutes

Channing Tatum, despite my best efforts, is starting to grow on me. As an actor, he still strikes me as a bit of a lug -- slow-witted and thick, but little by little my perception is changing. He took a big step in the right direction with this week's mostly funny, but ultimately disappointing cop show remake "21 Jump Street."


Tatum is Jenko, your typical dumb jock in high school. Jonah Hill, who also continues to rise in my estimation, is Schmidt, socially awkward nerd. The film hooked me early by opening to the strains of Eminem's "Slim Shady" while a buzz-cut bottle-blonde Hill strides into school, his Marshall Mathers ensemble spoiled only by his extra 20 pounds and mouthful of braces. These early scenes, with our protagonists still in high school, are very funny.

Luckily, the story doesn't lose momentum in transitioning to today, where both Schmidt and Jenko, former enemies, are now police academy trainees. Here they learn to appreciate the other's strengths and become the best of friends, setting up the over arching "bromance" plot device that runs all buddy comedies. What "21 Jump Street" does well, however, is not linger on any of these elements. The pace clips along and doesn't pummel you with set-ups that are, admittedly, pretty generic and cliche.

When our heroes graduate to become full-fledged cops, they realize that life isn't a Bruce Willis movie. Going hilariously overboard on their first real arrest, the two are busted down to an undercover narcotics unit meeting in an old church down on Jump Street. Sitting alongside other youthful looking officers, they learn that their assignment is to infiltrate a drug ring at a local high school. They are given back stories that stereotypically match their personalities. Jenko is a track star and Schmidt a chemistry nerd. Naturally the two confuse their identities and wackiness ensues.

There's no point in running down each and every plot point from here because it's pretty much what you'd expect. It's a by the numbers comedy, but that's fine because they do it well. Up to a point. About two-thirds of the way through, the filmmakers lose confidence and resort to gunfights, bloodshed, and some pretty disgusting humor. I was bummed because the rest of the movie was going so well.

I never saw the show "21 Jump Street" that this movie is based on, but I remember people talking about it. Johnny Depp made his name on that show, and I guess it wasn't bad. But unlike lesser adaptations, the "Jump Street" film doesn't hold it's source material as sacrosanct and that's what elevates the material. I was reminded of the "Brady Bunch" movie from a few years back. It's almost an absurdist take. "21 Jump Street" doesn't go as far as that film, but it's the same idea.

I think, ultimately, it's the R-rating that brings this movie down. As I said, two-thirds of the movie are very funny, and at times very R-rated, but the "freedom" that the R brings proved to be too much in the end. So much of what happens at the end of the movie is unnecessary and just not anything anyone wants to see. I suppose I was in the minority at the screening I attended, as the audience was laughing pretty loud, but for me the mood was spoiled. The same thing happened to another Jonah Hill movie, the somewhat sweet, yet disturbingly vulgar "Superbad." C'mon guys! I'm trying to like you! Stop making it so hard.

There are some pretty standard complaints I could make about "21 Jump Street" -- things that would have bothered me more had the movie itself not seemed to be in on the joke. The teachers at the school are all idiots, and the kids are all disturbingly mature. But for a while, "Jump Street" is rolling its eyes at these cliches along with us. Too bad it couldn't go the distance.

Grade: C

"21 Jump Street" is rated R for pervasive language, crude humor, violence, and sexual situations.

Next week officially starts the summer blockbuster season, interesting considering it's barely spring. "John Carter," had it been a hit, would have moved that start date up even further, but it was waylaid by unfairly negative press and so it falls to "The Hunger Games." "Games" is decidedly not suffering the same problem "Carter" did. Its sequel's release date has already been announced, before anyone has even seen the original. Oh well. Some movies get the gold mine, some get the shaft.

Here's hoping that "Games" can usher in a great roller coaster ride of a summer that includes "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Avengers," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and plenty more. We've earned it. It's been a long winter.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.