21 Jump Street (2012): Action Comedy, Starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill

An unexpected surprise, “21 Jump Street,” the feature film based on the popular TV series, which had starred Johnny Depp, is entertaining as an actioner and comedy.

This is in large measure due to the performances of Jonah Hill, recently nominated for the Supporting Actor Oscar for “Moneyball,” and to his chemistry with co-star, the appealing Channing Tatum, who begins to show more confidence as an actor.  (Both Hill and Tatum are also given executive producer credits).

The often smart and witty screenplay, credited to Michael Bacall, from a story by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, is based on the TV series created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell.

For the record: “21 Jump Street” ran for 5 seasons, the first four of which on Fox network. Fans remember the show for many reasons: It showcased the gifted Johnny Depp in his first major role. But the idea, a story of young-looking cops going undercover in high schools, was also novel, which may explains why it scored high ratings among young viewers (and also their parents)

Hill plays Schmidt and Channing is Jenko, youngsters who were enemies in high school but then, against all odds,  became friends in Police Academy.   But being friends and getting along doesn’t necessarily mean they are efficient and effective as cops—at least not when the tale begins.

They are given an opportunity to change their professional reputation, when they join the police department’s secret Jump Street unit, headed by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, also good, after a series of disappointing turns).

Their innovative and resourceful strategy is to trade in the conventional means, their guns and badges, and rely on backpacks and youthful appearances so that they can go undercover.

Problem is, times have changed, and adolescents of the present are vastly different from what they were just a few years ago, an angle that updates the story and make it more relevant to today’s younger viewers.

In the process, Schmidt and Jenko discover that everything they think they know about being a teenager, from sex to drugs to rock and roll, is all wrong—and passé.

More importantly, they realize that there all kinds of problems that, for different reasons, they did not address, let alone deal with, when they were at this crucial phase of their lives.

With some hilarious, unanticipated consequences, this new consciousness forces them to confront the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they thought they had left behind.

Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller give their tale the right tempo, and scene move and change quickly.

End Note

One of the most talented and respected TV writer-producers, Cannell, who died in 2010 at the age of 69, had also created or contributed to such varied shows as “The A-Team,” “The Rockford Files,” “The Greatest American Hero,” and “Wiseguy,” among others.