“There are no second acts in American lives,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was himself preparing for one when death brought the curtain down. Yet for modern movie audiences, he had it wrong: adulthood itself is a second act, following the childhood that culminates in the high drama of high school. “21 Jump Street,” which opened Friday, cleaned up this weekend ($35 million). Yesterday afternoon, it played to a crowded house in the multiplex around the corner—including to a bunch of teens too young to get into the R-rated movie unaccompanied (though there’s nothing in it that will do them any harm) and many young adults who may not have seen, except in syndication, the late-eighties TV series on which it’s based. The movie’s premise—a subtle but crucial tweak from the series—is that its protagonists, the officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), were high-school rivals—the despised nerd and the popular jock, respectively, from the class of 2005. They return undercover to their former high school, where, besides trying to infiltrate a drug ring, they get the chance to remake the identities were definitively cemented there.
One of the previews shown beforehand was for “American Reunion,” opening April 6th—in which the cast of “American Pie,” the high-school class of 1999, gets together for a reunion. In the trailer, the story’s set up around the gap between where the graduating seniors seemed to be heading in life and what they’ve actually done. Meanwhile, the Duplass brothers’ “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” which also opened Friday, also tells the story of a thirty-year-old man who seems to have done essentially nothing since school, and is waiting for a chance to reëngage his life. It’s not a new genre, but it’s a distinctively American one—because our system, with its nonspecialized high schools, college electives, and adult education—is designed for self-reinventions. What’s rigid in America social life, which sends kids off into an infinitely fluid world locked (at least, in their own minds) in a narrow and instantly recognizable category.
“21 Jump Street” gets its emotional kick from Schmidt learning that he can be cool and Jenko learning to use his head, and the script (by Michael Bacall, from a story he co-wrote with Hill) finds a remarkable way to deliver it. The two undercover cops, reintegrating themselves into their former high school, find that a world of new values prevails: it has become (somewhat) hip to be square, admirable to be smart, and cool to be tolerant, inclusive, socially responsible, and politically conscious. Teens, the movie suggests, have become more caring, humane, aware, and connected—therefore, the easiest way to escape the bonds of one’s own adolescence is to pick up on those of the next generation, by way of the pop culture they consume.
The movie folds in on itself by the very fact that Jonah Hill carries it. (Channing Tatum is the straight man, he’s not very funny, though, as my daughter Louise said, “He’s so cute that it doesn’t matter.”) The social shift in sensibility that the movie illustrates is underscored by the reality that Jonah Hill has become a bigger star than Seth Rogen. Hill (who played a supporting role in the comic chorus to Rogen’s lead in “Knocked Up,” from 2007) is an exquisite comic minimalist, a successor to Jack Benny in the art of the uproarious infinitesimal. Rogen, of course, is a maximalist, an engine of over-the-top expressions of voracious desires (the comic drama lies in taming these impulses). The desires of Hill’s characters are no less voracious, but his restraint in expressing them suggests a circumspect self-control, as well as an ethical component—an inherent (if sometimes unhealthy) awareness of others. The built-in drama here is the lesson of how to fulfill his desires without becoming a schmuck—using his newfound power responsibly. (This was also the subject of the more philosophical, more ecstatic, and non-funny “Chronicle.”)
In many ways, “21 Jump Street” is exemplary evidence of the liberalizing influence of Hollywood. But it’s as chilling in its view of law enforcement as “Dirty Harry.”
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Hanson investigates a series of bathroom bombings in the final case of the school year. The Jump Street Program is suspended for the summer. The team disperses to summer jobs knowing that it may not be renewed in the fall.
Genres:Crime | Drama | Mystery
Certificate:TV-14| See all certifications »
Parents Guide:Add content advisory for parents »
Release Date:22 May 1988 (USA) See more »
Production Co:Stephen J. Cannell ProductionsSee more »
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Aspect Ratio:1.33 : 1 See full technical specs »
Did You Know?
GoofsDoug gets offered a German Dark Ale, however the beer handed to him is the Dutch lager Grolsch. See more »
Crazy CreditsActor Don S. Davis (Principal) is credited as "Don S. David." See more »
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