We all know that remakes are where it's at when it comes to getting studio backing for a film. We also know that it can often spell catastrophe when it comes to getting a decent script approved. So how does screenwriter Michael Bacall's (who is also making a shit ton of money off of his other current release, Project X) adaptation of Fox's successful 1980s essential measure up in film form? Well, it's actually a surprisingly gratifying interpretation. And my theory is that Nick Offerman's brief appearance somehow infused the entire movie with magic.
Taking loose elements from the premise and characters available from the original series, 21 Jump Street centers on two extremely divergent personality types: The attractive and outgoing Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) and the shy and introverted Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill). Notice the absence of Johnny Depp's character, Tom Hanson. Opening in the year 2005 with Schmidt trying his best to emulate the Marshall Mathers look, "The Real Slim Shady" plays as the credits roll. Schmidt's thin shred of Slim Shady confidence is shattered after being rejected by the girl of his desire when he asks her to the prom--in addition to being ridiculed by Jenko for even attempting to get with someone so much better looking.
Seven years later, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves becoming unlikely friends as they join the same police division...patrolling the streets on their bikes. After making their first failed arrest (Jenko never reads the perpetrator his Miranda rights), their boss, Deputy Chief Hardy (Offerman), sends them to what he initially calls "37 Jump Street." He then realizes, "That doesn't sound right." This punishment occurs after he gives Jenko and Schmidt a witty spiel about how “the guys in charge are out of original ideas and find themselves forced to recycle old programs.” It is this sort of self-referential dialogue that makes 21 Jump Street palatable. Basically, everyone in the film is in on the joke and everyone seems to know on some level that Jenko and Schmidt don't really belong in high school, including the principal (The New Girl's Jake Johnson), who points out the strangeness of "Doug" and "Brad" enrolling one month before school is about to end.
Even though Jenko and Schmidt's superior, Captain Dickson (the always entertaining Ice Cube), assigns them to specific identities and social groups to become a part of, the two end up confusing their names, thus sending them on different paths than the ones they used to know during their time in high school. As Doug, Schmidt finds himself falling in with the group he always wanted to be in during his adolescence. The ringleader, Eric (Dave Franco, yes, the obvious brother of James Franco), takes a shine to Doug, even going so far as to welcome him to pursue his presumed girlfriend, Molly (Brie Larson, another actress apart from Greta Gerwig and Molly Ringwald that managed to escape Sacramento). In fact, Eric's exact words to Schmidt/Doug about Molly are, "We blow each other sometimes, but it's not like a thing."
As Schmidt grows more attached to Eric and Molly and the entire notion of who he is as a popular kid, he starts to lose sight of the investigation, not to mention deserting Jenko, who has fallen in with the geeky chemistry crowd. Because of Schmidt's obsessiveness with being cool, they both end up getting expelled after a mid-air showdown during the school's production of Peter Pan. But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to closing out act three. With cameos by Rye Rye (random, but awesome), Johnny Depp, and Peter DeLuise (both reprising their roles from the show), directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who will always hold a special place in my heart for being at the helm of MTV's short-lived animated series, Clone High) manage to pull out all the stops. The only thing that could have made it better is an appearance by Steve Buscemi (whose recent reference to 21 Jump Street on the 30 Rock episode "The Tuxedo Begins" was almost as funny as this entire movie put together).