Movie review: “21 Jump Street”

By
From the March 15, 2012 edition

Add to the pile of “Hollywood is out of ideas” movie concepts: big-screen treatment for “21 Jump Street,” the late ’80s Fox drama about cops going undercover in high school, best known for introducing the world to Johnny Depp.

Early in the film, a police chief played by Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) tells his new recruits that the decades-old high school program exists because his bosses “lack creativity” and “like recycling old ideas.”

Yep, that’s the refreshing, self-aware attitude this comedy takes. And it’s what makes it an unexpected winner.

Also unexpected is how great of a comedic pairing Jonah Hill — best known for being funny and no longer overweight — and Channing Tatum — best known for being impossibly handsome — end up making.

We meet Schmidt (Hill) in his awkward high school days, sporting braces and a circa 1999 Eminem-blonde Caesar haircut that has landed him the nickname “Not So Slim Shady.” On the other end of the social spectrum is Jenko (Tatum), the handsome and popular guy who isn’t so smart.

Years later, the pair crosses paths in the police academy, where their brains/brawn combination comes in handy in passing through training.

As newly minted cops, Schmidt and Jenko botch an arrest by forgetting the parts of the Miranda rights you don’t always hear on TV. They’re reassigned to the Jump Street division and to a project that gives them a do-over at high school life.

Screenwriter Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) comes out swinging and wisely treats the premise as a loose excuse for a great action-comedy. In fact, the only real nods to the original TV show are done for laughs.

And laughs are plentiful. Hill is know for his comedic chops — even as some have wondered absurdly if his recent weight loss will make him less funny.

But the surprise is Hollywood hunk Tatum, whose timing is spot-on. His willingness to play off his “dumb pretty boy” image shows real smarts.

Gags are rapid-fire in a silly, madcap style reminiscent of “Anchorman.” Some do miss, but there are more hits.

Even the tale of high-school redemption plays well, if just a little too long. The nearly two-hour runtime drags a bit for a comedy like this.

Still, it’s refreshing to know that even if Hollywood execs lack creativity, the people making these films don’t have to.