Regular readers know TV is not my thing. So it's no surprise that I completely missed the popular Fox TV drama 21 Jump Street when it aired from 1987 to 1991. All I knew about the program was that it starred an interesting young character actor named Johnny Depp. The premise had Depp, Peter DeLuise and group of young-looking detectives battling crime in high schools and colleges.
It made Depp teen idol tabloid fodder, and something about it resonated with a young audience. Depp bagged it a year before the show's demise and went on to bigger, better things.
More than two decades have passed, and we have a 21 Jump Street movie. It bags the drama thing and goes an entirely different direction. This is an energetic but somewhat goofy comedy starring the very likable Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and The Vow's Hollywood handsome, Channing Tatum.
The plot starts with the two characters in high school. Tatum's jockish Jenko mattered. Hill's geeky and shy Schmidt did not. Out of school, the two meet each other while training to become cops. They not only end up as pals, but also find themselves on a special squad battling crime amid the Clearasil crowd.
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High school in 2012 is different than high school earlier in the decade. Geek is great and jock is jive. Politically correct is what's -- well -- politically correct. While they're supposed to be doing police work and finding the source of a dangerous drug, the two heroes get caught up in the popularity contest that is high school.
Tatum's Jenko struggles. He's not the big man on campus. Hill's Schmidt has the goods and becomes awkwardly popular. The only place Jenko fits is with the science nerds. Ironically, his knowledge of chemistry, physics and all is -- at best -- zero.
The chemistry between Jenko and the nerds is classy.
The film in no way takes itself seriously. That helps. Lots. So does an R-rating where the characters are free to -- uh -- express themselves. Most notable is Ice Cube as the police team's captain. He runs roughshod over the two rookie cops with rocky dialogue packed with plenty of street slang.
21 Jump Street has the most fun poking fun at how teen angst has evolved. It also skewers the green revolution and takes less-than-polite shots at political correctness.
The story came from Hill and Michael Bacall and Bacall (Project X, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) wrote the screenplay. It's directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller who did the highly entertaining animated feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
The two directors, the writers and their cast give you just about as much fun as Meatballs. Key words: just about. By the third act, the plot plods a bit and the problems pile up. What saves the day is a terrific cameo and a fairly short car chase to wrap things up.
21 Jump Street won't have you jumping out of your seat with laughter, but it is far more entertaining than a weekly TV show.
Oh - and definitely look for a sequel.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for language, drug use, sex. It opens Friday, March 16 at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinema 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.