21 Jump Street

Are you sure Johnny Depp started out this way?

If you’re planning to see 21 Jump Street on the strength of Jonah Hill, you should first check out “Hitler Learns Albert Brooks Was Not Nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar,” a mirthful meme that says what needs to be said about Hill’s performance in Moneyball, and his screen persona in general. It will put you in the proper mood. If you’re attracted to 21 Jump Street because of Channing Tatum, however, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

The two actors, each at a crossroads in his respective career, have the task of rolling out yet another comic remake of a half-forgotten TV show, in this case the network series of the same name (1987-1991) about baby-faced undercover police — including young Johnny Depp — infiltrating high schools to catch crooks. And so klutzy rookie officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), on probation for incompetence, get sent to tough-guy Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube, now mostly a cop after years of gangsta) and ordered to pose as brothers at the local high school, where there’s a new psychedelic drug going around. Mission: find ’em and bust ’em. Of course, you can see the cops are going to break every law ever written governing contact between adults and teenagers.

The Hill character was a pathetic nerd and Tatum was a haughty but dumb jock way back in 2005 when they went to the same high school. The joke in 2012 is that after they fumble their new-student identities, “Doug” (Hill) gets assigned to the Mickey Mouse courses, like dramatics, and “Brad” (Tatum) gets advanced chemistry. In the seven years they’ve been out of high school all the kids have become PC, and so the one-time nerd is now the cool guy and the former jock gets to hang out with the science geeks. Hill does exactly the same shtick he did in Superbad — he really only makes sense as a harmless dork or a psycho. But Tatum displays some nifty comic timing and steals the movie. What a prize. Most of the speaking parts are handled by the usual twentysomething actors playing juvies — Hill is 28, Tatum pushing 32. But Tatum shows some range. Hill loses ground.

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