Who among us does not have certain things we once thought funny, but do not laugh at anymore? I know I do. While I will admit to still chuckling at times to inappropriate humor, for the most part I will endure potty jokes (I am already running out of synonyms) with a stone face. In this same vein, certain films offer a bit of a quandary. I enjoy irreverence as much as the next person, even with some things that I hold in high esteem. I take sex and drugs much more seriously than I once did, yet I find that there are still occasions that I can laugh about them. This is important. The Bible talks about a certain need for flexibility as being a key to real strength. Even Jesus had a good time. The trick is finding the right balance. For some seeking the path to Heaven, it is best to avoid all references to inappropriate material. They are distractions that can entice us in the wrong direction, and the enemy is always on the lookout for opportunities to present them. Hence, I find it easier for my soul to try as much as possible not to engage in them, whether they are presented humorously or otherwise. Much of what I am describing can be found in today’s film, 21 Jump Street (2012).
The two main characters in 21 Jump Street, Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill), went to the same high school. Schmidt was the nerd, and Jenko was the jock who bullied him. That was 2005. Seven years later, they are a both in the same recruit class for the police academy of the city of Los Angeles. They put aside their differences when they realize that each is proficient in an area of their studies in which the other is lacking. Schmidt helps Jenko with the aptitude tests, and in turn Jenko trains Schmidt to pass the physical part. They graduate with dreams of being out on patrol and doing the kind of awesome cop stuff you see in the movies. Instead, they are given bikes and told to patrol the parks. Nonetheless, they are presented with an opportunity to arrest a motorcycle gang leader known as Domingo (DeRay Davis) when they catch him and his cohorts selling drugs. Unfortunately, Domingo is released when it comes to light that Jenko and Schmidt failed to read Domingo his Miranda rights. Given their relative youth, they are reassigned to a special unit specializing in infiltrating high schools and taking down drug operations within them. This is the eponymous organization, and it is led by the no-nonsense Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). His directive to Jenko and Schmidt is simple: infiltrate the sellers and find the suppliers. Their target is a new drug called “Holy F-ing Sh-t” (HFS), and the hope is that they can stem the flow before it reaches other schools. As part of their cover, they are made to be brothers, and they go to live with Schmidt’s parents. On their first day, when they meet with their principal to receive their classes, they cannot remember who had which undercover persona and get them confused. Hence, Jenko gets the high-level academic courses, and Schmidt is given the lighter schedule. They also discover that being brainy is now the “in” thing, as opposed to Jenko’s more blasé attitude. Fortunately, on their first day they luck into meeting the main HFS seller on campus, Eric Molson (Dave Franco). When Jenko and Schmidt show a keen interest in the drug, Eric forces them to take it in order to prove that they are not narcs. Clearly, things have not gotten off to the best of starts. They also view their experience in high school as sort of a do-over for the mistakes of their teens, particularly Schmidt. While Jenko falls more into the school’s fringe clique, Schmidt becomes firmly ensconced in the popular set. He even develops feelings for a friend of Eric’s, Molly Tracey (Brie Larson), and they star opposite each other in the school play. Schmidt explains his actions away as getting closer to the suppliers, meanwhile Jenko uses the knowledge of the brainiac kids with which he is hanging out to develop surveillance techniques. Still, the two are growing further apart, which comes to a head when they take off in pursuit of Eric, who does a deal with Domingo and his gang. When their chase results in no arrests, a great deal of destruction on the highway, and both of them being expelled from school, Captain Dickson fires them from the squad. Realizing they have botched things from the beginning, Jenko and Schmidt decide to go to the school prom where they believe Eric will be meeting the supplier. Eric brings them along to said meeting, and they come to find out that it is their physical education teacher, Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle). Unfortunately, an angry Domingo comes to the meeting as well, and begins shooting at everyone around. Mr. Walters and Eric take Molly, high on HFS .hostage, and flee in the resulting chaos. A car chase with limousines from prom ensues, with Jenko and Schmidt eventually catching up with Mr. Walters and arresting the teacher, along with Eric. All is forgiven for their meritorious service, and the films ends with Captain Dickson assigning them to do pretty much the same thing but in college.
21 Jump Street is another one of those high school movies, even if the two main characters are not of that age, where the kids disregard all the rules in place to prevent the type of behavior you see on screen. When I was in high school, I never attended a party where there was drinking and drug use. Then again, I was more like Schmidt in high school, even though no one ever called me the “not-so Slim Shady.” Still, I identified somewhat with Schmidt. As I have grown older and matured, there are times when I have looked over my life, such as the days spent in high school, and wish I had a chance to do things differently. Schmidt begins to believe he has been given such an opportunity, even if it means that he is getting in too deep with his cover and is not real. What he has to come to realize is that there is no going back, that you can only move forward. This realization gives the film a glimmer of an emotional core, even if it is eventually overrun by boob and dick jokes. It also gives this Catholic reviewer the excuse to remind you how this small part of the film jives with Christian teaching. Further, it demonstrates the need for healing. As someone who provides spiritual direction for people, I have seen firsthand how wounds can affect our spiritual and personal lives. Those of us who practice our Faith make less of a distinction between the two, but it is clear that Schmidt (aside from not being a Christian) has not received any closure from the bullying he endured as a teenager. Luckily, he has a friend, albeit an unexpected one, to help him when it is most needed. As for the rest of us, we always have a friend in Jesus.
As stated, the good friendship between Jenko and Schmidt is offset by the inappropriate humor in in the film. There is really no reason to watch this film. It might have been funny at one time, but like anything else, we move on. In fact, that is what the characters in the film do, though you do not need to watch it to know the importance of doing so.