'21 Jump Street': THR's 1987 Review
On April 12, 1987, Fox aired a two-hour Sunday night premiere of undercover cop series 21 Jump Street. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
Cops under cover, in this case cops who look like teens, is the centerpiece of this new Fox network special, a two-hour screening of the series 21 Jump Street.
And according to Fox press info, stuff shown on 21 is material based on "an actual top secret police program." Anyway, that's what the press packet says.
Another hook to the series is the score; every episode is musically wrapped around a recent hit LP. Consequently, in 21's launch, Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life Again" plays as part of the soundtrack while the images are displayed. (Miami Vice sideswipes MTV.)
Yet after watching 21's two-hour debut, one has the feeling of revisiting a hot-wired David Cassidy TV broadcast from TV's past, in which the former Partridge family kin played a clandestine peace officer plopped into a local high school.
Back to 21.
After a surreal start, in which two thugs shotgun their way into a suburban home, demanding that the son pay back the scratch he owes, we get to the raison d'etre of 21.
Meet bright-eyed and bushy haired rookie Tommy Hanson (Johnny Depp), whose dad was a cop killed in the line of duty. Though Hanson is following in Pa's footsteps, he has been having a tough time making criminals believe he's armed and dangerous, his youthful countenance undercutting his real age.
As a way of better protecting and serving, Hanson is asked to join a group of officers who re-enroll in high school as a way of combating crime among the pre-college-age set.
Heading the back-to-back-high-school undercover brigade is Captain Jenko (Frederic Forrest), a survivor of the "Love Generation" (he wears a leather jacket with Jim Morrison stenciled on the back and has Hendrix posters up in his office), who now believes today's youth's got bad, and that ain't good.
For Hanson, the thought of returning to the past — re-enlisting in high school — is something that doesn't sit so easy. Lockers, English class (diagramming parts of a sentence), study hall, detention, adolescent angst. Like, man, who needs it.
But against his initial impulse, Hanson joins a batch of youthful-looking undercover cops (played by Holly Robinson, Peter DeLuise, Dustin Nguyen) and heads back to school, there to find puberty and its attendant elements more than malts, sock hops and the math club. These '80s kids got pressures and problems and all sorts of worries, including the two creeps who earlier slammed into the suburban domicile.
Depp as the questioning clandestine cop, conservative in politics and personal habits, is earnest and well-intentioned. But he has too much dross to push through. Unfortunately, the same sad fate awaits the other young actors playing his co-cops, this despite interesting work by DeLuise. Even Forrest, able actor he is, gets weighed down by an omnipresent heavy-handedness, playing a caricaturized character.
Indeed, 21 Jump Street more accurately waddles, a "concept" overtaxed with bloated, swollen concerns. — Miles Beller, originally published on April 14, 1987