Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum – 21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new film “21 Jump Street,” based on the TV series that ran from 1987 to 1991 on Fox and launched the career of Johnny Depp, two immature, mediocre cops played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are assigned to pose as students in an undercover program to break up a high school drug ring.

Before the movie’s world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, I sat down with the cast and directors to talk about their experiences in high school, adapting a cult TV drama into an action comedy, and the inevitable fan backlash that comes with it.

First up were stars and executive producers Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Were you fans of 21 Jump Street before doing the movie?

Channing Tatum: I was, yeah. I don’t think Jonah was old enough, but I watched it with my sister all the time.

Jonah Hill: I didn’t watch it the first time, no. I watched it all when I was adapting it.

Are you aware of a somewhat small backlash online that’s calling this “21 Jump Street” in name only, since it’s a comedy?

JH: Yeah, we’ve been crying about it every night. Uh, I find myself unable to work or get up in the morning–

CT: (Laughs)

Some of the comments are pretty brutal.

JH: Yeah, ’cause there’s seven nerds who watched the show the first time that, uh, yeah…its pretty hard, you know?

CT: What those guys don’t know is that the actual creator of the show basically gave (Jonah) the blessing. He was ecstatic about (him) coming in and re-doing this thing.

JH: Yeah, Stephen Cannell. We got to know him really well and he was really supportive of the show being turned into a film and having it be interpreted in a different way. There’s maybe 10 people in the world who care about this.

That’s probably a little high.

JH: Yeah, exactly. The movie’s awesome. That’s all we care about.

As you were writing, did you perfect the Stephen J. Cannell Paper throw?

JH: No, in one version of the script we had—he unfortunately passed away, Stephen. He was a great guy. We had him, at one point, doing it. He worked in the police station and we were gonna have him [mimes the paper toss over his head].

CT: Aww, that would have been awesome!

JH: Yeah, that would have been really cool.

Did you suspect there were any undercover cops in your high school?

CT: I don’t know. I actually know there was an undercover, sort of, in my 8th grade school. It was like an undercover sort of, like, gang-type thing.

A student?

CT: It was a student-student, not an older person playing a student. They were working in cahoots with the police or whatever. We had a bunch of gang stuff in Florida.

Any plans to keep going with a “Booker” spin-off?

JH: Uh, no.

CT: (Laughs)

There are fans of that, too.

CT: I actually didn’t see that one.

JH: I’m feeling like you represent this weird subculture of 12 people who give a shit.

I do have friends that were, surprisingly, yelling at me about this. I have to make sure they’re represented.

JH: Oh, well. You can leave if you want.

CT: (Laughs)

Don’t worry, I don’t feel the same way.

JH: Yeah. Oh, great.

I loved the movie.

JH: Yeah, the movie’s great, so…

Rob Riggle & Dave Franco – 21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

Next up were co-stars Rob Riggle and Dave Franco. Franco plays Eric Molson, a popular kid and drug dealer who befriends Jonah Hill’s character, while Riggle plays Mr. Walters, a brash, loudmouth coach. True to his character, Riggle started on me right away.

Rob Riggle: Jerrod, you look very serious.

Don’t be fooled, it’s a thrift store coat. First off, were you guys fans of the original show?

RR: Uh, I wasn’t a hardcore fan. I didn’t watch it, like, every night, but I caught my share of episodes.

I don’t think it was on every night, was it?

RR: No, I mean every Friday night. Weekly.

Dave Franco: I did not ever see the show until I found out about the movie, went back and watched a few episodes, saw that it was a completely different thing and felt like I didn’t really need to watch more. Even though it was a cool show.

I had the first season on DVD and I…don’t have it anymore.

DF: Where’d it go?

RR: Yeah…

It may have been re-gifted.

Both: [Laughs]

It’s fair to say you’re different ages, right?

RR: Yes. Barely. I mean, just barely.

It’s like an older brother situation.

RR: Just barely.

Were the cool kids in charge when you both were in high school, or was it like the movie?

DF: (To Rob) What was your experience like?

RR: You know, Hollywood paints a picture and stereotypes and all this. You know, my high school…yes, sports and stuff like that, that was a big thing. But nobody was mean to each other. I don’t remember any of us being mean to each other. So, like, I played football but I also did drama. Everybody kind of cross-pollinated. I guess you could say there were some cliques, but it wasn’t as hardcore as people make it out to be.

DF: I had a very similar experience where there weren’t necessarily “the cool kids” or anybody. Everyone–and maybe this is fortunate—but like everyone got along decently well, considering. My group of friends were pretty social and got along with everyone. But at the same time we were the kids playing Ultimate Frisbee at lunch. We weren’t cool, you know? But everyone got along. I don’t know.

RR: That was my experience.

We had cowboys at my school.

DF: What do you mean?

Like, people that wore cowboy hats…

DF: Oh, okay..

RR: Belt buckles…

They raised pigs and goats on campus.

DF: On campus?

On campus. We had a barn.

DF: Come on.

RR: That’s…interesting.

I’m serious.

RR: Really?

Well, this is Texas.

RR: I guess…

DF: Wait, they would go have a period to tend to their animals?

Yeah.

DF: Come on. That’s a class?

I assume. I wasn’t in it.

DF: That’s awesome.

RR: Might be an FFA thing or something…

Yeah, it was an FFA thing.

RR: That’s probably what it was.

DF: (Laughs)

Rob, you’re a bit of a jock, safe to say…

RR: Yeah, yeah. Here’s the thing, though: 8th and 9th grade, I was pre-pubescent. And everybody else grew and was huge and I was small and scared. I spent those two years running for my life, in fact, hiding in the boys’ bathroom after lunch on many occasions.

DF: Come on.

RR: Fact. And then in 10th grade it hit like a thunderbolt. And I grew and got big–

DF: You got back at those kids?

RR: No, never did, ’cause I remember what it felt like to hide in that bathroom. So it was weird. I had two experiences. The latter half of my high school experience was fun. I played sports. It gave me self-confidence, self-esteem. And then I did drama. I was on the radio and TV station. I kind of came out of my cave a little bit and it was awesome.

DF: I never quite had that second experience. (Laughs)

You never hit puberty?

DF: Well…I’ll get back to you on that.

RR: (Laughs)

Was there a coach you drew inspiration from?

RR: Without naming names. For this character? For Mr. Walters?

Right. You’re a big enough star, you can name names now.

RR: No, I would never want to do that. But I did draw from a specific coach that I had. Actually, it was an amalgamation. I shouldn’t say that. He was one guy, I had another gym teacher, and I think a driver’s ed teacher, and I just pulled from all of them. Maybe one drill sergeant in there, too.

So were there any actual teenagers in this movie?

DF: Yeah, this is actually a really bad story. Um…we…this isn’t in the movie…

Do we need to stop taping?

DF: Actually, should I say this?

RR: No.

DF: This actually might get me in trouble.

RR: Yeah, don’t say it.

DF: I’m not gonna say it.

RR: All right.

We’ll talk afterward.

DF: It was bad though.

Chris Miller & Phil Lord – 21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

Last up were directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord. Their hit animated family movie “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” may have grossed nearly $245 million worldwide, but that success didn’t mean they could waltz right into whatever live-action project they wanted.

Your big film was “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”

Both: It’s true.

What was the transition like to live-action?

Phil Lord: It’s faster. And shorter. In animation you can sit and go to lunch and figure out the answer to something and on set you have to kind of figure it out right away. But other than that, you know, animation has human people, and its basically the same thing as being creative with other human people.

Chris Miller: I mean, yeah, there’s a large crew and there’s obviously the cast of that movie that we dealt with, and this was a similar situation but just, as Phil said, a lot more fast-paced and crazy.

What’s it like getting the call to do an R-rated raunchy comedy?

PL: It’s so weird. One minute, you’re sitting in bed, you know, having a perfectly normal breakfast. And then you get a phone call from Hollywood and they’re like, “You’re doing ’21 Jump Street’,” and I’m like “I didn’t even wanna do ’21 Jump Street!’”

CM: They said, “That’s what you’re doing.”

PL: And they’re like, “That’s what we decided!” and then you’re like, “Well, we’ll make the best of it.”

Was it a call from Hollywood in general?

CM: The mayor of Hollywood.

PL: The mayor of Hollywood. [Adopts ’30s carnival barker voice] “Hello, Hollywood speaking! How are you doing? How would you like to direct ’21 Jump Street?’” [back to normal voice] “Do I have a choice?’ [back to carnival barker voice] “No!”

CM: [Also in ’30s carnival barker voice] “A motion picture! I got Douglas Fairbanks and a pirate ship, see?”

PL: “You’ve got one week!”

[Joining in the ’30s carnival barker voice] It’s a talkie!

CM: We actually sought this out because we wanted to do something that felt very different from “Cloudy” and we thought doing a crazy, R-rated action comedy would be a lot of fun. And we were big fans of Jonah, who was already involved and working on the script with Michael Bacall, and so we actually were the ones making the call rather than the mayor of Hollywood.

PL: Yeah, we kinda went after it. We had to take a bunch of meetings and convince people the cartoon dum-dums could make it.

What’s it like working with an actor who also happens to be the writer?

CM: It was great. Both Jonah and Channing were producers so they were wearing different hats where they were thinking about the whole movie and not just their parts. For the most part, on the set, they were two really smart actors and we had a nice open set. We had a good script and everyone was very familiar with it. We did a lot of table reads so everyone knew where their characters were at any given time, and it was a nice springboard for them to do a lot of improvisation and stuff. Everyone was so familiar with the movie in its entirety and not just their little part in it that it made the improv a lot better.

PL: We’re greedy, you know? I want as many people with ideas and writing talent as possible, you know? It’s awesome to have Jonah there. It’s awesome to have Channing there, who’s got a great mind for story and comedy. It’s awesome to have Ice Cube there, who’s like, you know, a quadruple-threat. It’s great to work with amazing filmmakers. I’ll take free ideas from anyone. And take credit for them. (Laughs)

Were you fans of the TV show?

CM: Yeah, we both watched the show growing up. When I was a kid, the popular girls watched the show, so I also watched the show, thinking maybe we could talk about it in the hallway. Which we did not. It never actually happened. But I had a fondness for the show so we tried to put as many little details, little nods to the show, throughout the movie as possible, even though the movie itself has a very different tone. But it was a lot of fun.

Any plans on doing an adaptation of the “Booker” spin-off?

CM: (Laughs)

PL: Yeah! I’m all for it. That sounds hard.

Somebody call Richard Grieco.

PL: Somebody call him. He’s around. Doing stuff. He’s out in the world.

CM: It’s true. (Laughs)

PL: He is. He’s still with us, God bless him.

21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson
Directed by: Phil Lord (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”)
Written by: Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”)

Considering the handful of ’80s TV shows adapted into films over the last decade, it’s impossible not to dread the idea of “Manimal” or “Magnum P.I.” finding their way to the big screen anytime soon. Even as popular as the retro revival is today — from skinny jeans to the resurgence of 3D movies — there’s really no excuse for things like Michael Mann slummin’ with “Miami Vice” or the intentional ridiculousness of “The A-Team.” For obvious reasons, we’ll give Jessica Simpson wearing Daisy Dukes a pass for now.

Yet on the heels of these substandard movie versions comes the surprisingly clever and often funny “21 Jump Street,” an adaptation of the TV series that launched teen heartthrob Johnny Depp’s career in 1987. While the plot itself leaves much to be desired, screenwriter Michael Bacall (scribe of the overrated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the duo behind the deliciously entertaining “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) use the kitschy nature of the crime show to their advantage by mocking its own drawbacks. More telling is their recognition that a “21 Jump Street” movie isn’t necessarily something fans of the series were begging Hollywood to make. With the pressure at a manageable level, the filmmakers toss all logic aside, don’t overdo the nostalgia, and simply have fun with it.

Starring hunky Channing Tatum (“The Vow”) and not so chunky Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) coming off his first Oscar nomination, “21 Jump Street” takes the procedural buddy cop setup and injects some much-needed energy into the tired formula. Assigned to go undercover as high school students to find the supplier of a new hip, hallucinatory drug students are dropping, rookie police officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) maneuver their way through the social network of a younger generation. It’s not just about popular kids and nerds anymore, as we learn when Schmidt points out a group of Asian girls hanging out before class dressed like punk manga comic book characters and asks, “What the hell are those?!”

Like Drew Barrymore in the 1999 rom-com “Never Been Kissed,” Hill and Tatum are forced to revisit their awkward teenage years (Jenko was a dumb jock; Schmidt was a wastoid) and do so with some sharp comedic timing. Neither will ever be able to pull off Peter DeLuise’s mullet, but the hilarious Hill and Tatum tandem is a good enough reason as any to ignore ’80s TV show-turned-movie history and (cue Holly Robinson) jump down on Jump Street.