A remake of the 1980s series 21 Jump Street could easily go astray in the wrong hands. But then you look at all the people who actually signed up to make it. Reliable funnyman Jonah Hill put everything he has into the project as star and producer with a “story by” credit. Co-star and co-producer Channing Tatum lends credibility to the action side of this action-comedy along with producer Neal Moritz (Fast Five). Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are using Jump Street as a testing ground to see whether the rapid-fire hilarity of their animated projects (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Clone High) will transfer to live-action. Plus, the movie has a stellar supporting cast, featuring Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ellie Kemper, and Nick Offerman.
I had the opportunity to visit the New Orleans set last summer with several other movie bloggers for an inside look at how all these pieces fit together. Hit the jump for my report, accompanied by a new clip from the movie.
To get a better sense of the movie, which takes the R rating as far as it can, watch the red band trailer:
And in case you’re new to Jump Street, here is the official synopsis:
In the action-comedy 21 Jump Street, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are more than ready to leave their adolescent problems behind. Joining the police force and the secret Jump Street unit, they use their youthful appearances to go undercover in a local high school. As they trade in their guns and badges for backpacks, Schmidt and Jenko risk their lives to investigate a violent and dangerous drug ring. But they find that high school is nothing like they left it just a few years earlier and neither expects that they will have to confront the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they thought they had left behind.
21 Things to Know
Here at Collider we like to break down our set visits into “X Things to Know,” so it made way too much sense to give the overview in 21 bullet points:
- Stephen J. Cannell, the creator of the show, was very involved with development on the feature adaptation until he passed away in 2010. The movie takes the material in a different direction—the show was not a comedy—but the filmmakers hope the end result is a worthy spin on Cannell’s original concept.
- Lord and Miller watched all 103 episodes of 21 Jump Street before production. The DVD sets were often playing on set, too.
- Expect the theme song from the original to make an appearance in some form.
- There is continuity between the show and the movie. The co-exist in the same universe, where there were undercover cops in 1987 who were stationed at Jump Street. There’s even a reference to the Johnny Depp group along the lines of, “We’re re-commissioning an old program from the 80s that was shut down.”
- The central theme of the movie is the idea of getting to relive your high school years. As Hill puts it, “The story is getting to relive a really important time of your life, and trying to resurrect those mistakes, and having the same feelings even years later.”
- The school scenes were shot at Riverdale High School in Jefferson, Louisiana. But in the movie the Riverdale Scottish Brigade become the Sagan High Bullsharks. There was a surprisingly bloody mural of the mascot painted on one of the walls that I hope will make it into the film as a sight gag.
- The fictional school is located in Metropolitan City as a nod to the setting of the original show. It’s Anywhere, USA.
- The generous Louisiana tax breaks allowed Moritz to get “25% more on the screen.” Additionally, they were able to shut down the freeway for 5-6 days to shoot one big action sequence, which you can’t do in L.A.
- Hill and Tatum’s characters knew each other in high school, and we’ll see flashbacks. Hill had a terrible time in high school as a nerd. Tatum was more the popular jock, but ended high school on a bad note.
- Lord and Miller cite 48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon, and (surprisingly) 1986’s Running Scared as influences in the buddy cop genre.
- The crime plot centers on a drug called HFS, short for “Holy Fucking Shit.” There are five stages: 1) The Gigs, 2) Tripping Major Ballsack, 3) Over-Falsity of Confidence, 4) Fuck Yeah Motherfucker, and 5) You pass out.
- There was a long discussion about whether it should be PG-13 or R. Lord and Miller talked to Sony about The Social Network, which had to go back to the MPAA “like 50 times” to get a PG-13 rating with the party scene that featured drugs. 21 Jump Street is about high school kids selling and taking drugs, so a PG-13 was impossible.
- Dave Franco plays one of the cool kids and the main drug dealer at the school, but he’s not the traditional movie cool guy. Instead, he is very eco-friendly and anti-sports.
- Brie Larson is the female lead in the movie. She is a more modern high schooler, as evidenced by her open relationship with Franco’s character.
- Larson is also the love interest for Hill’s character. Things have changed since his time at high school, so her progressive attitude toward relationships confuses him. There is also clear conflict because she is underage, while he is an adult police officer.
- For movie geeks: Larson says her wardrobe is inspired by actresses from older films that her character idolizes. She cites A Woman Is a Woman, Klute, The Lover, and Contempt.
- Lord and Miller applied an animator’s attention to detail for certain aspects of the movie. They have a vision for the color theory of the movie, where red and blue were the main thematic colors. “Because they’re cops. And America!” Additionally, the cops’ Jump Street headquarters (an old Korean church in real life) are said to be is beautiful.
- Ice Cube plays the boss of the Jump Street cops. His role plays into the stereotype of the angry black captain in cop movies. The character is actually very aware of that stereotype, but simply doesn’t care. Hill sought Ice Cube out for the part because he thought “it would be great having the guy who wrote ‘Fuck the Police’ play a police captain.”
- You will see all the mainstay high school events like the big track meet, prom, and the school play. Hill plays Peter Pan, Larson plays Wendy.
- The action and the high school setting interact in a very interesting way. Tatum explains, “Every normal high school set piece has action in it, and every action set piece has high school emotions and feelings.”
- The moral of the movie is “Be yourself.”
While on set, we saw Lord and Miller fill two scenes. The first was in progress right as we walked onto the set. The mission is to get close to the kids who are selling HFS in the school. Hill screwed up at the school track meet, so he sits with Tatum on a bench just outside the school, dejected because they think they ruined their chances of popularity. Instead, Franco and his posse walk by and give major props to our protagonists because their attitude is, “That was great, you screwed up that organized sports thing. Organized sports are fascist.” We only saw this scene from afar without any dialogue. We saw the filming of one more scene, a big comedy set piece, in much more detail.
Hill and Tatum are huddled over the toilet in a small bathroom stall. To prove that they aren’t narcs, they are forced to take HFS, and are trying to vomit the drug out of their system before it takes effect. They try to activate their own gag reflex, but it doesn’t work. Before you know it, Hill has his fingers shoved down Tatum’s throat and vice versa. The were also trying to gross each other by describing the worst imaginable scenarios. This structure allowed for a lot of improv, with the jokes split about 60/40 between Hill and Tatum. Hill is an experienced improviser, but Tatum is new to comedy. Tatum credits Hill—and other nimble comedians on the cast like Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper, and Nick Offerman—for leading the way. After one take in the stall, Hill coached Tatum, “Wait longer before and after this beat.” Mind you, this was for a dick joke. But he was right. On the next take, the dick joke was funnier.
You can watch the scene in question below, though this edit cuts out all the grossout lines:
I was encouraged by what I saw and heard on set. The cast and crew that we talked to presented an inviting vision for the movie, with an abundance of jokes connected by the emotional throughline of the return to high school. That doesn’t guarantee the end result will be great, but know that Sony has already screened the movie to press, way earlier than normal. That shows the studio has confidence in 21 Jump Street, and based on my informal sampling, every critic with a Twitter account who saw it agrees the movie is hilarious. 21 Jump Street is a safe bet when it opens on March 16.
For more coverage from the set, click the links for the interviews:
- 21 Things to Know About 21 JUMP STREET from Our Set Visit
- Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Dave Franco 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Brie Larson 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview
- Producer Neal Moritz 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview