21 Jump Street

 

Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ice Cube 15A cert, general release, 109 min

There’s some surprising fun to be had in this mildly subversive spin-off of a decades-old TV series, writes DONALD CLARKE

NOW HERE’S something you didn’t know you wanted. If it is remembered at all, 21 Jump Street, a cop show from the Reagan years, is known for giving Johnny Depp an early break. Remaking it is rather like restaging the Swansea Players 1986 Christmas Panto because Catherine Zeta-Jones played the fourth elf from the left.

Hold on a moment. Against all the odds, the revamp turns out to be pretty good fun. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum form a surprisingly effective double act. The film is edited with a degree of restraint. Yes, the script looks to have been written under the influence of aromatic smoking materials. But it has a tone all its own: drunk enough to lower the inhibitions; not so drunk that it becomes unintelligible.

We begin in 2005, as Schmidt (Hill), a clumsy nerd, and Jenko (Tatum), a slow jock, fail to make their way to the high school prom. The former is rejected by the school’s prettiest girl, the latter forbidden from attending after flunking his exams. Seven years later, the two men are failing to find the police force exciting.

Following their disastrous failure to arrest a group of drug dealers, they are dragged before their boss and instructed to join a division investigating high school crime. They may well get to go to the prom, after all. “All they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us not to notice,” the chief says. Do you get it?

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who directed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, play some lively games with the tired high school conventions. Being green is now cool. Bullying kids is so last decade. In one of the most absurd jokes, rather than using iPhones, all the hip kids text on Sony Ericsson devices. Oh, hang. That’s because this is a Sony film. Scratch that.

Some of the routines are overextended. There are a few too many interweaving plotlines. But there’s enough chemistry between the two leads to suggest that, if the box office allows, we could endure a sequel or two. It seems unlikely, however, that Mr Depp himself will return to repeat his (reasonably jolly) cameo.

DONALD CLARKE