The Johnny Depp Archive

21 Jump Street (2012)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Johnny Depp, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson Peete

Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Rating: 1 2 3

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street

'We're reviving a cancelled undercover project from the '80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they've run out of ideas, so what they do is recycle sh*t from the past and hope that nobody will notice.'

So runs the joke of 21 Jump Street, the 21st century buddy cop movie based on the TV series that catapulted Johnny Depp to heartthrob stardom back in 1987. But in fact, far from lacking creative flair, this entertaining cops-in-high-school comedy sticks a rocket under its source material and blows it sky high, gleefully acknowledging all the stupidities of the set up while at the same time celebrating and exploiting them.

Geeky but brainy Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and handsome but dumb Jenko (Channing Tatum) are Police Academy rookies who dream of car chases, shoot outs and vehicle explosions. But, lucky them, they end up assigned to 21 Jump Street, a covert programme that sends young-looking cops back to high school to bust teenage crime.

The '80s series was colourful, hip and sassy and, beneath it all, rather worthy, tackling issues such as drugs, bullying and teen suicide: Fame with guns, almost. But the best episodes were always the ones where Officers Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp) and Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise) donned the headscarves and ripped jeans and transformed themselves into the too-cool-for-school, trouble-making McQuaid brothers. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that Schmidt and Jenko (presumably named for Sal Jenco, Johnny's bezzy mate and the janitor in the original series) must also take on the roles of the McQuaids.

But things have changed since (gulp) 2005, when the duo originally graduated. Now, plump, nerdy Schmidt finds himself in with the cool crowd, while knuckleheaded Jenko hangs out with the mathletes.

Ice Cube in 21 Jump Street

There's absolutely no need to have seen the TV series to enjoy this daft, occasionally crass, but actually really rather funny comedy, but it does add an extra layer of self-deprecating humour to, for example, Ice Cube's shouty black police captain, who revels in his own '80s blaxploitation stereotyping, the frequent references to Channing Tatum looking way too old to be in school and the final, highly entertaining twist, which I've somewhat ruined by filing this under, yes, the Johnny Depp archive.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street

As you may be aware, I'm not a great connoisseur of American frat boy humour (noticed any reviews of Superbad, The Hangover or any of the American Pie movies? that'll be because I've never seen them) but it seems to me that, while not the smartest comedy on the block (Heathers it ain't), 21 Jump Street is certainly not the dumbest either, and is at its best when pointing out its own shortcomings and playfully messing with our expectations of an action flick. And, like its source material, it has actually has heart, the comedic chemistry between the two leads riffing nicely on the mismatched police partners theme in the time-honoured tradition of Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour.

So check your brain at the door and enjoy some thrills, spills and tasteless sex jokes – oh, and a really rather marvellous, scene-stealing moment from Officer Tom Hanson himself. Come in Mr Depp (uncredited in the movie), your number's up…

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