Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
$35 million – that’s how much Box Office Mojo says “21 Jump Street” made over its opening weekend, the highest opening ever for a comedy set in high school.
But I wonder: If someone were to offer me $35 million to purposefully corrupt, defile and carelessly tempt toward destruction the youth of America, jeopardizing the nation’s future at this precipitous time in our nation’s history, would I consider it fair payment for my act of treason?
I admit, one movie isn’t going to quite accomplish the feat of single-handedly trashing America’s future. Neither will one drop of arsenic kill a man. But a steady drip of both will do the trick, sure as shootin’.
Somewhere, someone has to tell the poisoner to stop the drip, and I’d suggest movie audiences cut it off before another movie like “21 Jump Street” gets made.
Now, to be fair, the movie is very well imagined, a farce of delightful acting that is, admittedly, side-splittingly funny. I’ve seen many worse films since I started writing this column three years ago.
But “21 Jump Street,” despite its well-deserved R-rating and foundation as a spoof of the ’80s TV show of the same name, is a film that not only appeals to adults who grew up in the ’80s, but also clearly aims at an audience with a junior-high mentality. As such, I contend, it is a grossly irresponsible assault on America’s youth.
The movie’s premise is that a pair of high school enemies – one a “cool” jock, the other a nerdy brainiac – become friends as adults when they learn they can help one another through police academy.
After a brief stint as beat officers goes awry, this bumbling pair gets assigned to be undercover high school students in an effort to break up a drug ring. But as they return to high school, they learn social norms have changed: “Green” cars are now more popular than hot rods, being “gay” is a badge of honor instead of an insult and athletics – rather than the surest path to high school immortality – are frowned upon as “fascist.”
The combination of social satire and fish-out-of-water shtick is comedy gold.
So far, so good.
But then the moral of the story kicks in. We learn that all the social constructs of “coolness” in high school are petty and artificial. Being cool – whether in 1985 in 2012 – isn’t about, “Are those Bugle Boys you’re wearing,” or driving a hot car or being environmentally friendly. Those are just fads.
You know what’s perpetually cool, no matter the decade?
Underage drunkenness, wanton, hedonistic sex and mind-altering, illegal drugs. Oh, yeah, those never go out of style.
And I don’t bring it up simply because the movie contains all those things, but because the movie glamorizes those things, defines “fun” as those things, asserts those things are needed to actually fit in with the “in” crowd and in general implies that being a teenager is all about those things.
This is what I call irresponsible. Not even some cheesy moral of the story at the end of the film can make up for the messages conveyed.
If moviemaking is an art form, then I contend the artist has a moral responsibility – either to reveal that which is evil as deplorable or elevate that which is good as desirable. This movie gets it backward: elevating that which is deplorable as desirable.
Some will say, “But the movie is rated R; it’s not really made for teens, but for adult audiences who can laugh at such stuff.”
Then why subject us to 37 jokes about oral sex and the film’s climactic moment, in which a man gets his penis shot off, then tries to pick it up with his mouth (because we really needed 38 oral sex jokes)?
Why? Because this was a movie made for junior high boys. And if “adults” aren’t insulted by such juvenile humor … then I’m too late. The treasonous destruction of America’s culture is already complete.
“21 Jump Street” contains well over 100 obscenities and profanities, many of which are strong, and many of which simply litter the script with unnecessary crudeness, dragging the plot down with them.
The film contains more sexual jokes and references than an Andrew Dice Clay and Eddie Murphy stand-up comedy routine, combined. Many of the jokes also fall flat and should have just been edited out. There is some kissing and a brief scene of nudity, as well as a sex scene during the final credits.
The film contains several scenes of violence, including car chases, shootouts, explosions and slapstick mayhem. Blood, vomit, a burned body and a severed penis also grace the screen.
The film does have some religious content, played for humor. The undercover police station is the repurposed “Aroma of Christ” Korean A.M.E. church, which sports the usual church fixtures, as well as a neon sign that declares “God is love.” One of the characters kneels before a crucifix to pray, but notices the Christ figure has Asian features. This prompts a running joke about “Korean Jesus.” The prayer itself, while from an unbeliever, is actually heart felt and somewhat poignant.