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Go ahead and ‘Jump’

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'21 Jump Street' shockingly good

One of the things that Hollywood has taught us over the past couple of decades is that with rare exceptions, television properties almost never translate well to the big screen. The cinematic recreations of classic TV shows from “The Brady Bunch” to “Bewitched” to “Starsky & Hutch” tend to have one thing in common – they’re terrible movies.

So expectations were low walking in to “21 Jump Street” (based on the late 1980s FOX show of the same name), Hollywood’s latest attempt to translate television success to the cinema. I was expecting it to be more of the same – more warmed over clichés and stale jokes dressed up in the guise of nostalgia. I even thought this movie had the chance to be a special kind of terrible.

I was very, very wrong.

“21 Jump Street” is the story of two young police officers named Schmidt (Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”) and Jenko (Channing Tatum, “The Vow”). The two had an antagonistic relationship in high school, but as they entered adulthood and the Police Academy, they became best friends.

However, they aren’t particularly good cops. After an attempted drug bust is badly bungled, the two are reassigned to a recently reestablished undercover program that was discontinued in the 1980s. (Get it?) When the two arrive at Jump Street, they learn that they will be part of a department designed to infiltrate high schools under the watchful (and delightfully profane) eye of Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, “Rampart”).

Schmidt and Jenko have new identities established and enter a new school as brothers. However, due to a mix-up, they wind up having their cover identities switched – nerdy Schmitt is now the star athlete while big, thick Jenko is supposed to be genius. Meanwhile, the pair soon learns that Eric (Dave Franco, “Fright Night”) is the major dealer at the school, so they try to get in with Eric and his crew.

The balance between doing their jobs and keeping their cover is a delicate one, and as they delve deeper into the seamy underbelly of high school life, that balance becomes harder and harder to maintain. Will that lack of balance destroy their case? Their friendship?

This movie was good. Really good. Shockingly good. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed by how much I enjoyed this movie.

Hill (who also conceptualized the story and co-wrote the script) is very good here. He’s found a perfect transitional sort of role – he’s definitely growing up, but we still want to see that foul-mouthed smartass kid we’ve come to know and love. Here, he gets to give us both. The usually-uninteresting Tatum showed something here as well; this may the first time he’s really embraced the comedic potential inherent in who he is. We’ve never really seen him in on the joke like this before and it’s kind of fun to watch. The supporting cast is outstanding, with Ice Cube leading the way.

This film is sharp, well-written, and clever, containing just the right amount of self-reference and aware in all the right ways. It manages to be both a buddy cop movie and an Apatow-esque coming of age comedy. It invites the audiences in on the joke, but it’s never smug about it. The film honors its source material without being bound by it, creating something that little resembles the original, yet still manages to keep the spirit intact. Plus, the thing is packed with legitimate laughs – punch lines and situational alike.

And of course, for fans of the original, there are cameos - cameos that work just as well as the rest of the film.

Whether you’re a fan of the original show or not, “21 Jump Street” is worth seeing. There’s a whiff of nostalgia, but this movie definitely stands tall on its own two feet. It’s wonderfully crass and sweet and profane and sincere.

I know – I’m as surprised as you are.

5 out of 5

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