Sometimes something is so gleefully stupid that it becomes a revelation of brilliance.
I loved the television show 21 Jump Street. I was frightened to death that the movie version was going to defecate all over my memories, but perhaps there was a reason why Johnny Depp seemed 100 times more willing to do a cameo in the movie spoof of the show that made him a star than he was to actually do it the first time around.
First I saw the trailer, which was somehow terrible. It must be hard to take a movie this funny, and it’s the funniest, raunchiest movie since Superbad (the first time Jonah Hill was too old to go to high school), and make a trailer that bad. After seeing the trailer, I not only didn’t want to see the movie, but I was actively enraged that the movie was even going to exist. Then the good reviews started to come sputtering out, and I figured they were merely a case of a film that everyone thought was going to be terrible, being sort of passable, but that’s not true. It’s actually a parody of such comedic genius that it’s on par with Airplane and Blazing Saddles.
That’s all I’m going to say about it because hopefully the trailer was so bad because the film industry for once didn’t want to give away all the movie’s joyous surprises, so who am I to ruin the experience for you. All I’ll say is that yes Johnny Depp did his cameo; yes he thankfully brought along fellow McQuaid brother Peter Deluise; and yes it was all kinds of awesome.
21 Jump Street came out in 1987, which was my junior year in college, and fulfilled all kinds of personal fantasies for me. Like Jonah Hill’s character in the movie, I went through high school two years ahead of everybody mentally and two years behind everybody physically. Take my word for it, I made the best of it, but like high school does to everybody it left me scarred for life.
By 1987, I’d filled out a bit and wanted to go back so badly that a close college friend of mine and I actively discussed doing it on a regular basis. As for the TV show that helped to build the Fox Network, it was ten times better than it had any right to be and most of it had to do with Johnny Depp. His Tom Hanson was supposed to be something of a square, but the vintage blue Mustang that he drove was the exact car I wanted to be driving and Johnny Depp was well Johnny Depp. There was an episode where Depp went undercover as a Hispanic gang banger and he even managed to pull that off.
Depp might have hated doing the show, but he was great in it and he and Deluise had such wonderful chemistry together that they somehow even pulled off a multi-part episode that seriously paid homage to Oliver Stone’s Salvador. Anyone watching Depp in those years knew that he was going to be a huge star and the only thing that delayed it for a decade or so was Depp’s own discomfort with the idea of stardom and personal predilection for off kilter, character roles in quirky movies.
As for Hill’s movie, it works on pretty much all levels. It enjoys the fantasy of returning back to high school, while simultaneously reveling in how much things have changed since the invention of the iPod, that it is every bit the time travel satire that the first Austin Powers movie was. Best of all, it doesn’t even ruin the original show for me. Depp gets the result he so clearly always wanted, but someone could still do a serious reboot of this franchise, because this one exists in a weird alternate universe where two of the most delightfully dimwitted, mismatched friends somehow managed to graduate from the Police Academy. This is the version of 21 Jump Street that the Three Stooges would have been proud to have made.
Sometimes comedy truly is as simple as a tall good looking guy having a short loser as a best friend. It worked for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and thanks to a lot of raunch, inappropriate drug humor, and sexual innuendo it still does in riotous fashion.