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21 Jump Street

Year: 2012
Studio: MGM
Director: Phil Lord/Chris Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall/Jonah Hill, Patrick Hasburgh
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper

This was the sort of project that had everything working against it. The very mention of a film version of 21 Jump Street prompted many an eye rolls and discussion about creative bankruptcy in Hollywood.

Only two things were going to give it even a chance of being good – poking fun mercilessly at the premise and having enough chemistry in the leads to carry it off. Fortunately the film has both in droves. At one point one character even makes reference to how they never come up with anything original, they just rehash old stuff endlessly. He's actually talking about the Jump Street program, but it's a sly wink to the audience about the kind of film it is.

Ice Cube as the terminally angry captain has the best time, embracing his stereotype as an angry black man. He runs the dusted off program – revived from the 80s – of sending young-looking cops undercover at schools to flush out bad guys, and he inherits hopeless cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) who can't even do a simple drug bust without making a public nuisance.

They get sent back to school to break a local drug ring, territory the nerdy Schmidt and the incredibly stupid Jenko can't hope to navigate successfully, and most of the resulting story beats are expected. They take drugs and run rampant with the hilarious consequences, Schmidt has to ask out the cute girl even though he's as nervous as when he was in high school himself, the big deal is going to go down during the prom, you know the drill.

But Hill and Tatum make it their own and bring it right off the page. Hill can do this sort of thing blindfolded by now, but the real surprise is how funny Tatum can be with the right script and partner. Go along for the profanity and laughs, forget everything else and enjoy yourself.

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