The idea that the TV drama "21 Jump Street" was going to be made into a feature film comedy triggered flashbacks to 2004 when the same effort was made with the disastrous "Starsky & Hutch." Those fears proved unfounded because the "Jump Street" script by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall doesn't just lampoon the source material but pokes fun at itself.
Channing Tatum and Hill play Jenko and Schmidt, bungling cops assigned to an undercover unit. Their first mission sends them undercover as high school students so that they can crack a drug ring.
Much in the way "Airplane" satirized action films and "American Pie" took teen angst movies to task, "21 Jump Street" finds humor in making fun of the buddy cop genre.
They are under the supervision of Capt. Dickson, played with growling glory by Ice Cube. Instead of having him play the stereotypical angry, black police captain, the film points out the absurdity of the familiar cop buddy character. Dickson even pokes fun at the film remake when he says the undercover unit is nothing but a recycled idea.
Hill still has a baby face. But if Tatum walked into a school, he would immediately be tagged as a narc. The fact Tatum doesn't look like a teen becomes the source of a running joke that includes a particularly funny gag with the chemistry teacher, who's torn between her duties as a teacher and her attraction to the new student.
Even a standard chase scene generates laughs as the pair rip through many of the action film conventions. Their attempts to escape a murderous motorcycle gang get stalled because of a traffic jam -- something that never happens in an action movie. Several times, there are crashes involving vehicles filled with explosive material but the results are not what we've come to expect from the action genre. It does lead to a very funny payoff.
The best -- and funniest -- twist is having Tatum and Hill swap high school identities. Tatum's supposed to be the all-star jock and Hill the brain, but a mix-up has them trying to deal with high school demands beyond their natural capabilities. A relay race featuring Hill is pure slapstick comedy that plays for huge laughs.
As if this wasn't enough, "21 Jump Street" has a few major surprises. Revealing what they are would spoil the fun.
Rehashing old TV series has been a hit-and-miss process with Hollywood. Future attempts should look at "21 Jump Street" because it found the right formula of openly admitting there's an inherent absurdity to re-examining such projects. Going with that can be lots of fun.
21 Jump Street, rated R for language, sexual content, drug use. Stars Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Dave Franco. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes 104 minutes. Grade: B Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com
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