The unexpectedly brilliant pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum is one of many surprises in 21 Jump Street that shouldn’t work but do. Rightly tossing the notion that a serious remake sans Johnny Depp could be remotely viable, writers Hill and Michael Bacall opt for a hilariously self-aware shtick comedy with soul. Freshly-minted cops, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are assigned to an undercover task force that is headed by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) and operates out of 21 Jump Street, an abandoned Korean Church. Their first operation: to infiltrate a high school drug ring and find the supplier.
Ice Cube, well known for his antipathy toward cops from his days as a rapper with NWA (“Fuck tha Police”), plays a loud, angry officer giving profanity-laced speeches to his 30-going-on-17 subordinates. On following the script, Ice Cube explains at a roundtable, “Seventy percent of it was scripted — thirty percent was me thinking [of] crazy shit to say to Jonah or to Channing.” As for selling out, he proudly admits, “I still hate cops, man. If they didn’t pay me all that money, I would’ve never did this. Hollywood has been conspiring for 25 years to get me and Ice T to play cops. Well they got me. Fuck it, they got me.”
Hill also admits to having had reservations about joining the project: “When they asked me, I rolled my eyes just like everybody else. Adapting a television show into a film is just lazy by nature. It’s uncreative, ideas that someone already had.” Instead of a reinvention of the late '80s cop drama, the film became an R-rated comedy about going back to school. “Bad Boys meets a John Hughes movie — that’s a movie I would want to see,” Hill sums up.
The blend works well for 21 Jump Street, and especially for Hill, who is the beating heart of this over-the-top ode to buddy films. After countless supporting roles, Hill proves he’s just as comfortable playing the romantic lead (and next to Channing Tatum no less!). Tatum does get some love from his science teacher, played by Ellie Kemper, fresh off her star-making role in Bridesmaids. And SNL alum Rob Riggle plays a gym teacher equally impressed by Jenko’s physique.
Rob Riggle, whose outrageous role is well in line with previous performances from the actor, plays obnoxious and immoral so naturally one can’t help but expect to see some of that in the man himself. However, Riggle is just a very gifted actor who once declined a long-term contract with the US Marines so he move to Chicago and study with Second City. “I liked flying, but it wasn’t my passion," he says. "My passion was acting.”
The Marines were able to find a position for him in NYC that didn’t interfere with his study of comedy and Riggle ended up serving everywhere from Ground Zero to Afghanistan before landing SNL. All of which just makes his appearance in 21 Jump Street all the more incredible, considering he uses his teeth to pick up something very unexpected in the last scene of the film.
So how did Riggle feel about the most hilarious/disgusting/awesome scene in the movie when he first read the material? “I hope this is how they remember me. Hey, comedy is comedy. Either go for it or go home.”