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Jump Street a fun twist on iconic 80s series
Depp-less comedy is no reboot, with fresh characters, funny script
Jonah Hill, right, and Channing Tatum are shown in a scene from "21 Jump Street." - photo by Scott Garfield

'21 Jump Street'

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle

Rated: R, for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence

Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Bottom line: Hilarious riff on the classic show

"21 Jump Street" is one of the first great surprises of 2012.

At this point, we've seen so many movies try to reboot '80s televisions shows ("Charlie's Angels," "A-Team," "Miami Vice"). Most of those movies have been varying degrees of bad, and the 80s revival as a cultural wave has definitely crested.

Why, therefore, would we expect anything different from a reboot of "21 Jump Street," a series that only ran from 1987-1991?

The first thing you need to know is this is not a reboot. Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill co-wrote the script, and they kept the series' basic premise but not much else.

The show used to send young-looking police officers undercover into high schools, teen gangs, etc., in order to expose criminal enterprises among teenagers and young adults.

The movie retains this scenario. However, it is not built around the characters from the original series.

The show featured an ensemble cast including Holly Robinson Peete, Peter DeLuise, Dustin Nguyen, Steven Williams and others, but the entire series was anchored by Johnny Depp.

Casting someone new in the place of Depp would have been disastrous. "Miami Vice" fell into that trap by offering us a new Tubbs and Crockett. We didn't buy it.

Besides, what actor would want to try to fill Depp's shoes anyway?

The movie instead borrows from the buddy cop genre and focuses on two new characters, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill).

Jenko was a popular but dim-witted jock in high school. Schmidt was an overweight nerd who got picked on a lot, often by Jenko.

Fast forward to when the two are young men going through the police academy, and their relationship changes. Jenko helps Schmidt with the physical aspects of academy training, and Schmidt helps Jenko with the academic part. Best friends are born.

Unfortunately, though, they're pretty bad at being police officers. What do you do with inept young cops? If it's a comedy, you send them to Jump Street.

Ice Cube plays grumpy, foul-mouthed Captain Dickson, head of the Jump Street squad, with a swagger reminiscent of his N.W.A. days. Immediately, he puts Jenko and Schmidt in their place, telling them, "You are only here because you some Justin Beaver, Miley Cyrus-lookin' muthas."

He sends Jenko and Schmidt on their first assignment: Infiltrate a high school to bust up a narcotics ring.

Hilarity ensues, but not much police work.

The show tended to take a look at problems real teens were dealing with, but the cast and crew here don't take any issues, let alone the show or themselves, too seriously. There's no pretense that this is anything more than a great time.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller co-direct, and they bring the same combination of manic pacing, cultural references and ironic heart to this movie that we saw in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." Although, obviously it comes in a much more adult package here.

One thing that makes "21 Jump Street" a different property than those mentioned above is its place in American culture. On one hand, it has earned the label "iconic." It's a quintessential artifact from the decade, and most people are aware of it.

On the other hand, it hasn't enjoyed the same popularity in syndication as a lot of '80s shows. Few people under the age of 30 have actually seen it. So there is not a large, ferociously protective fan base ready to rip it to shreds over all the details that were changed.

What a gift to the producers and filmmakers: a property with name recognition but without almost no expectations placed on it.

The filmmakers seize this opportunity. They make the movie their own while inserting an endless stream of subtle tributes and some of the most unexpected, funniest surprises I've seen in a movie in years.

Accept the assignment. Go back to Jump Street.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on