Unline its star Johnny Depp, the late-’80s TV show 21 Jump Street hasn’t aged well. (You can stream it on Amazon Instant or Hulu to see for yourself.) The brainchild of writer-producer Patrick Hasburgh (The A-Team) and small-screen Svengali Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files and my personal crime-time-after-prime-time favorite, Silk Stalkings), Jump Street strained to be hip and topical by having fresh-faced cops work undercover as high school kids. Each day, when all of their locker-room narc-ing was over, the acid-washed agents would report back to the address of the title and face their tough-love boss. The series ran for five seasons, and the main reason it’s even remotely remembered now is that it was Depp’s springboard to the silver screen. So it was an odd property for Hollywood to dig out of mothballs. Thankfully, Jonah Hill specializes in odd. In addition to starring, Hill exec-produced the hilarious movie version of 21 Jump Street (2012, R, 1 hr., 50 mins.), and his subversive fingerprints are all over it. He seems to get what so many TV shows-turned-movies don’t: that being reverential is death (Wild Wild West) and mocking is even worse (Starsky & Hutch). This version of Jump Street nods and winks at the parts of the original that still work (including an inspired Depp appearance), ditches the ones that don’t (the after-school-special moralizing), and reverse engineers a smart-ass action comedy.
Hill’s partner in crime solving is Channing Tatum, who might be the film’s canniest move. If his recent hosting gig on Saturday Night Live didn’t convince you that he’s more than just a slab of Abercrombie beefcake, Jump Street will. The film opens with a flashback to 2005, when Hill was an awkward high school nerd and Tatum his jock tormentor. Seven years later, they bond at the police academy and are assigned to bust a school drug ring led by a tree hugger (James Franco’s excellent brother Dave). Thanks to an administrative screwup, though, Tatum is cast as the chemistry brainiac and Hill as the track-and-field star. As the odd couple investigate and get a chance to right the wrongs of their teen years, Jump Street soars and surprises. It takes something stale and makes it fresh again. As for the Extras, skip the DVD and go straight for the Blu-ray, which includes a Depp-on-set featurette, 20 deleted scenes, and a terrific Hill-led commentary track, where we learn that Depp insisted he share his one scene with his original Jump Street costar Peter DeLuise. I guess the friends we make in high school are friends for life after all. B+