Having never seen the TV show this sophomoric comedy plunders, I can offer neither reassurances nor warnings to anyone who reveres the series that launched Johnny Depp. However, I'm betting the original 21 Jump Street was not quite so explicitly fixated on dicks or as unapologetic about teen hedonism as its crass copy. And I can't imagine it was this much fun.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as Schmidt and Jenko, a mismatched pair of inept cops who bungle an arrest and get shunted to an undercover unit dedicated to sniffing out high-school crimes. The script might as well have been adapted from a rejected pitch for Harold and Kumar Go to 12th Grade. Tasked with infiltrating a teen drug ring by posing as students, Schmidt and Jenko quickly (and sort of creepily) take to their roles and proceed to trip balls, get kids wasted, pursue cute girls and piss off Ice Cube.
The unapologetic go-for-broke spirit of the thing results in a few painful misfires (cop-on-perp sexual assault is probably never going to be funny to me, no matter how playful the dry hump), but 21 Jump Street's episodic anarchy works far more often than it doesn't. Much of the film's batshit joy owes to the Hill-Tatum pairing, an obvious but winning odd-couple tactic that zeroes in on the least obnoxious aspects of Tatum's dirt-dumb persona, which actually ingratiates here instead of inspiring revenge fantasies. And while Hill did more nuanced work in Moneyball, he still shines brightest when his surroundings are idiotic.
The idiocy is even strangely liberating, devolving as it does from a neat subversion of the high-school-as-hell cliché that guides most teen comedies. In the imaginary world cooked up by screenwriter Michael Bacall and the co-directors who made Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, high school is an exceedingly tolerant realm of ethical non-monogamy, experimentation and play. The old hierarchies have been dismantled, and the kids are all right. They're great, in fact. So Schmidt and Jenko aren't cleaning up a mess so much as sneaking into a utopia where smart people do dumb things the right way. They don't seem ready to leave it all behind at film's end, and I'm with them—school sounds awesome now. R.
SEE IT: 21 Jump Street opens Friday at Lloyd Center, Cedar Hills, Cinetopia, Cornelius, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, City Center, Regal, Division, Evergreen, Hilltop, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Tigard, Wilsonville and Sandy.