March 16, 2012 at 9:16 AM ET
REVIEW: Of all the movies to turn out to be laugh-out-loud, side-achingly funny, "21 Jump Street" didn't seem a likely candidate. Who knew? Turns out that remakes of old favorites don't have to be phoned-in bores after all.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play incompetent bike cops whose baby faces earn them undercover assignments digging into a high-school drug ring. Right from the start, the film addresses its recycled premise, with their police captain (an awesome Ice Cube) telling Hill and Tatum, "We're reviving a canceled undercover program from the '80s," confessing that the department is "out of ideas" and "they expect us all to not notice." Smart move. Get the audience on your side about the big ol' elephant in the room early, and they'll roll with you.
Tatum's Jenko is the jock, Hill's Schmidt is the nerd, and they are shocked to discover that times have changed and their respective spots in the school pecking order are reversed. Kids sneer at Jenko, who appears to be a gay-bashing lunkhead, while Schmidt the smartypants is delighted to at last be cool.
This may not resemble the true social strata at any real high school now or ever, but it's entertaining as heck to watch Jenko and Schmidt swap roles. They swap again when they're too dim to remember whose alias is whose, and thus dummy Jenko lands in the AP chemistry class meant for Schmidt and shy Schmidt gets Jenko's drama class, doubling up on the fish-out-of-water scenarios.
Parents and those with sensitive ears should know the film earns every bit of its R rating, with plenty of swearing, lots of shooting and one weird flash of a threeway nude scene. This isn't your mother's John Hughes movie, but the dialogue is just as smart and some of the high-school bits feel just as real. ("Are you two-strapping?" Jenko snaps at Schmidt when he sees him wearing his backpack dorkily.)
Viewers may have expected Oscar-nominated Hill to carry the show, but Tatum matches him laugh for laugh. And yes, even the promised Johnny Depp cameo pays off. (Several other original "Jump Streeters" also make appearances.) It's perhaps the most satisfying cameo of its kind in recent memory, and Depp plays it to the hilt. In the end, there's a joke about Schmidt and Jenko going on to college, and truly, if that sequel were made, it'd probably be pretty darn good.