March 22, 2012

Mocking TV remake wins at humor


---- — The idea of a big-screen version of the teen cop show that launched Johnny Depp to fame in the late '80s had very little appeal.

"21 Jump Street" the movie, however, has enough humor to win most of the skeptics over.

The film uses the same title as the TV show and takes the basic concept — young-looking police officers go undercover in a high school — but there's otherwise very little resemblance to the old Fox drama.

This "21 Jump Street" plays the concept entirely for raunchy laughs and gives several knowing winks to its own recycled plots, cliches and stereotypes.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as a pair of mismatched partners. Hill's Schmidt was an awkward geek in high school, while Tatum's Jenko was a popular, athletic bully. Now, seven years out of high school, they're best friends who are thrown back into the trauma of adolescence to help shut down a drug ring.

The duo quickly finds that high school has changed quite a bit, especially when their roles are reversed: Schmidt hangs out with the popular kids and runs track, while Jenko takes advanced chemistry and befriends the nerds.

Hill stays close to his familiar persona of neurotic shlub, but Tatum has a bit of a breakout. Known primarily for wooden (he was originally a male model) performances in action movies like "The Eagle" and "G.I. Joe" and romances like "The Vow," he gels perfectly with Hill and shows some knockout comedic timing, often playing off his own good looks and physique.

Ice Cube is on hand as an intensely no-nonsense police captain, and James Franco's little brother, Dave Franco, shows some pizazz as a somewhat odd popular kid. The movie also includes a nifty cameo (not quite Bill-Murray-in-Zombieland good, but good).

"21 Jump Street" has some good laughs, though it does demonstrate that, yes, it is possible to have too many penis jokes. A relationship between Schmidt and a high-school student (Brie Larson) also feels sort of creepy, even if the movie tries to make a point that she's 18.

Mocking TV remakes have a pretty erratic history, but some ("The Brady Bunch") have been pretty good. "21 Jump Street" can join that list.

Rental Recommendation: I thought 2010's "The Other Guys" was a little bit funnier than "21 Jump Street." Grade: B+

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