The ’80s TV show “21 Jump Street,” about an undercover police unit that specialized in combating youth crime, helped launch Johnny Depp’s career.
The show’s original producer dusted the concept off for a feature film update, and with Jonah Hill as its producer, writer and star, it’s R-rated comic gold.
Hill and Channing Tatum star as Schmidt and Jenko, a former high school nerd and jock who bond during their police academy days while helping each other pass the physical and scholastic examinations.
Soon after graduation, they are assigned to the 21 Jump Street division because of their boyish looks. As “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, playing their superior officer, says, the higher-ups on the force have no imagination and have simply decided to recycle old ideas from the ’80s.
From then on it’s a fresh and hilarious take on the difference between the “Glee”-ified high schools of today and the jock-run facilities of the past. Hill and Tatum infiltrate a local high school’s drug ring to stop a new product from spreading out of the district.
What makes the new “Street” more than just a string of obscenities and crude jokes is its entertaining commentary on the teen and crime film genres. Hill and screenwriter Michael Bacall scripted a thin plot, mostly stringing together scenarios likely to get laughs. Soon after they go undercover, Hill and Tatum throw a party to gain their classmates’ trust. Since they are over 21 and also have access to the police force’s evidence locker, it’s a killer bash with booze and pot for all.
Later, in a car chase, Tatum and Hill duck after a gasoline tanker gets shot up, only to find that it doesn’t explode. But when a motorcyclist chasing them loses control and his bike skids under a truck carting chickens, the bike, truck and chickens most certainly do.
These buddy cops are as unconventional a pair as Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in “The Other Guys.” But Hill and Tatum are great together, and they make sure every joke lands. For being a pretty boy with “Step Up” among his credits, Tatum is a hilarious actor who can easily make fun of himself, as his character is forced to do often.
Hill’s nerdy smart guy fits in best with the eco-friendly, hipster rich kids who run the high school, so he works to infiltrate them while Tatum – after accidentally switching undercover identities, and class schedules, with Hill – becomes the unlikely friend of the nerds.
“21 Jump Street” boasts a female lead (Brie Larson) who can dish out the off-color humor with the best of the boys. Larson’s character is cute with a shocking streak of crudeness that makes her endearing and accessible to Hill’s girl-shy character.
Dave Franco (brother of James) and Rob Riggle round out cast as a fellow classmate and the gym teacher, respectively. “The Office’s” Ellie Kemper shows up for a few scenes to pump up the hot teacher fantasies.
Depp himself provides a winning cameo to round out “21 Jump Street,” a fun cop comedy riddled with F-bombs – and laughs.