“You look like the audience at the Muppet Show!” marveled Phil Lord, who directed the newly reinvented 21 Jump Street along with Chris Miller, as he took in the packed house at Austin’s Paramount Theater. This was the first time stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who came dressed in their characters’ bicycle-cop uniforms,were going to see the movie with an audience. It was a perfect crowd for them: Game and ready to laugh.
The movie, which follows the buddy partners as they go undercover to bust up a high school drug ring, was the right mix of sly and silly, with lots of winning nods to the original. And who knew Channing Tatum was more than just a hunk? He’s the real surprise here, and the scenes of his former high school jock now bonding hard with the AP chemistry kids are among the best in the movie. In the extended Q&A following the film, the directors, screenwriter and cast (including Rob Riggle, who plays a high school coach, and Dave Franco, an environmentally conscious cool kid) described the five-year journey to the screen.
It was Hill’s agent who first had the idea of turning 21 Jump Street into a film. “Which I said was the worst f—ing idea in the world,” said Hill. “ ‘Why do I work with you?” Tatum admitted that he’d only once waved at Hill across a restaurant and that he himself didn’t understand why he was first approached for a comedy role. Hill explained that he’d been so impressed by Tatum in the 2006 movie A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! There’s a wonderful cameo turn in the movie by original 21 Jump Street stars Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise. When asked how they got Depp on board, Hill said that “we sucked his agent’s d— for like 10 years.” They all wrote the star letters. Tatum was once at the same party as him but chickened out from approaching him. When Depp agreed to a cameo, the directors said he had a few conditions: “I want to die and I want to work with Peter DeLuise again.” Depp came up with his own “ZZ Top hillbilly biker man” undercover disguise. One day while filming in New Orleans, Depp hit Bourbon Street hard in full hair and makeup, knowing that this would be his one chance to enjoy a couple of cocktails incognito.
At one point an audience member asked about the possibility of another movie. “All of us up here would love to make a sequel,” said Hill, who pointed out that any future plans depended on whether crowds embrace the film when it opens this weekend. “What happens now? What happens in the next week?” he said. Looking out at the world’s friendliest crowd, he pushed off the future anxiety. “We’ll have this night forever.”