“21 Jump Street,” along with “Married With Children,” was the show that helped put the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Corporation on the map when it started 25 years ago. Until then, the broadcast world was dominated by CBS, NBC and ABC although a few cable networks were starting to gain traction as more homes were willing to pay for both better reception and more programming choices.
The plot of the TV show, about a bunch of young cops who infiltrate a high school as current students, was basically lifted from the 1960s ABC classic, “The Mod Squad,” and it ran for five seasons on Fox. It made a huge star out of a previously unknown actor named Johnny Depp.
Nowadays it seems as if every television series that ran more than two years gets its own movie version. To their immense credit, the filmmakers blatantly acknowledge Hollywood’s creative laziness by having one of the characters, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman of NBC’s “Parks & Recreation”), grouse on screen, “Every piece of crap from the eighties gets recycled!”
In the new “Jump,” Doug Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Craig Jenko (Channing Tatum) were both members of the same high school class who ran different circles. Doug was the quintessential nerd while Craig was the bully who enjoyed tormenting him on occasion. Seven years after graduation, they are partners in an unnamed city’s police department, and are so little regarded by their superiors that their beat is riding a bicycle around a park.
After blowing their first arrest by failing to read a suspect his Miranda rights, Schmidt and Jenko are assigned to an undercover unit run out of — where else? — 21 Jump Street. The commander of the unit is Captain Dickson, played by rapper and actor Ice Cube, who is clearly having fun spoofing his angry persona. Dickson assigns our heroes to a high school where a dangerous and potentially lethal synthetic hallucinogen is being distributed. He makes it clear what is expected out of them and the consequences if they screw up in a very profane and hysterical manner.
In a clever twist, it turns out that in seven years a lot of the high school clique rules have changed. Now it is the ecologically conscious and more empathetic characters who seem to run the show, while the muscular jocks are the outsiders. It is Schmidt who finds himself the object of a very attractive girl’s affections, while it’s Jenko who is forced to bond with members of the AP chemistry class in order to have friends.
There is little doubt that the filmmakers pad the screen time with endless car chases. That is the film’s most notable drawback, but it’s a relatively minor one when it comes to overall enjoyment .
The good more than outweighs the bad. Hill and Tatum may be Hollywood’s ultimate co-starring odd couple, but they have a very believable chemistry. The supporting cast is spectacular, with the always-welcome “Saturday Night Live” alum Chris Parnell, Comedy Central vet Rob Riggle, and the aforementioned Ice Cube and Nick Offerman pitching in. They are assisted by some terrific newcomers, Brie Larson and Dave Franco (the younger brother of actor James Franco.)
In a terrific nod to the TV series, most of the original cast — Richard Grieco, Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson, and of course, Johnny Depp — have cameos here. I guess that Dustin Nguyen must have been busy.
“21 Jump Street” is a great combo of laughs and action.