When they say the movie "21 Jump Street" is based on the late-1980s TV series that made Johnny Depp a star, they mean it very loosely.
Yeah, it's still about two young cops who go undercover at a high school to ferret out crime. But that's about all it has in common with the TV show, other than a cameo appearance by Depp toward the end of the movie.
What Fox could not do back in 1987, the movies now do with nearly every comedy aimed at young adults: dirty it up, "Hangover" style. Lots of profanity, crude sex jokes, violence played for laughs.
The movie pairs Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as the undercover cops, Schmidt and Jenko, who knew each other back in high school. Schmidt was the brainiac who choked when asking a girl out, and Jenko was the jock who tortured him.
But at the police academy they become odd-couple friends out of necessity. Jenko gets chubby Schmidt past the fitness test, while Schmidt tutors Jenko on written exams.
After blowing their initial assignment as bicycle cops, they get stuck with Ice Cube as their angry Jump Street boss, who has only three rules: Don't get kicked out of school, don't have sex with students or faculty and find the school's drug supplier. They predictably screw up, since being good at your job isn't funny.
Right away they botch their assigned identities, so that Jenko must play the brain and Schmidt the jock who attracts the drama-nerd girl (Brie Larson).
Worse, the rules have all shifted since they were in high school. The environment is in, nerdy brainiacs are cool, picking on gays is out.
They are doubly fish out of water.
While Hill repeats the now-familiar sincere bungler he played in "Superbad," Tatum is the revelation. Known primarily for war dramas and romantic roles, he's really funny here — going for broke as the angry, confused former high school star who can't find his feet in this changed set of rules.
And he's really angry about that! (He blames "Glee" in one hilariously profane outburst.) Tatum cheerfully uses his hottie image to trip laughs when the character's confidence is shaken.
The comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill is the only thing that saves the picture, which is riddled with cliches — the prom, the house party that gets out of hand, the anguished adults forced to relive high school indignities. About all that's original is some of the curse-filled one-liners. (Ice Cube's good at this).
Also worth noting: James Franco's younger brother, Dave, who looks a lot like him while playing the school's drug dealer.
Not bad, not great. Pretty funny. You could do worse on a Friday night, though I'd hold off and rent this one.
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