Graphic “21 Jump Street” entertains through comedic acting

Despite some graphic scenes, action film "21 Jump Street" earns four out of five stars for its comedic plot.

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| Courtesy of chicagoreader.com

| Courtesy of chicagoreader.com

| Courtesy of chicagoreader.com

Matthew Okada and Matthew Okada

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First, carelessly mix the mindless hilarity of “Superbad” with the violent, drug-infused antics of “Pineapple Express.” Then find a way to forcefully insert that concoction into the mold of “Mean Girls.” You’ve created “21 Jump Street,” a comedy released last Friday, starring the unlikely duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as a pair of immature police officers fresh out of the academy.

“21 Jump Street” is a motion picture remake of a television series aired in the late 1980s featuring a young Johnny Depp. The series followed a squad of baby-faced cops sent undercover into high schools and colleges to investigate crime from the inside. Now, Tatum and Hill have stepped into those awkward, teenage shoes as somewhat dysfunctional cops eager to prove themselves.

Comedic plot strengthened by acting

After popular pretty boy Greg Jenko (Tatum) and nerdy juggling club member Morton Schmidt (Hill) go from spiteful enemies in high school to best friends at the police academy, the stage is set for an hour and a half of nonstop comedy. When the pair fails to read an arrestee his Miranda rights, they’re relegated to an assignment at “21 Jump Street.” As it turns out, they have been recruited to pose as high school students in a sting operation centered around a new drug known as “H.F.S.” (which stands for an unprintable string of expletives). Posing as brothers, Jenko and Schmidt begin acclimating to the high school life — again.

As the duo tries to fit into their new cover roles — which the less-intelligent Jenko accidentally switches, landing him in AP chemistry and Schmidt on the track team — the jokes flow in a constant stream. Labeling “21 Jump Street” a “laugh-a-minute” movie would hardly be an overstatement, as a hilarious combination of stupid stunts and wacky acting by both stars keep the chuckles coming almost nonstop. In fact, anytime Tatum and Hill share the screen — which means essentially the entire film — audiences can’t help but be amused.

The usually serious heartthrob Tatum abandons all previous labels and throws caution to the wind as he milks the dumb, but secretly sensitive jock persona for all its worth. Meanwhile, Hill’s classic goofiness and proclivity for off-color humor demand the somewhat ashamed laughter fans of “Superbad” or “Get Him to the Greek” know and love.

Film has graphic scenes, confusing developments

That being said, “21 Jump Street” is certainly not a film for the kids. Packed with mostly lighthearted references to, and often graphic representations of, teenagers involved in sex, alcohol, drugs from marijuana to cocaine and well beyond, and partying, the film absolutely earns its R rating. The fact that all this happens in the context of a high school — including a somewhat awkward relationship between Schmidt and an 18-year-old senior and the participation of several students in the actual drug business — is really the only major negative to be tagged onto co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s remake.

Of course, as can be expected from these hooligan comedies, the plot isn’t going to win any Oscars. Few of the developments in the story make much sense, which should realistically be expected, since half of the characters are high for half the film. Nevertheless, the characters themselves carry the film all on their own, from beginning to end. Hill and Tatum’s juxtaposition alone provides enough amusement to support the whole 109 minutes, but joined by the constantly furious Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) and even cameos by actors from the TV series, including Depp, the casting and scripting make for a wealth of entertainment from start to finish.

If you can deal with the frequent vulgarity and sexual innuendo, as well as a good deal of foul language, “21 Jump Street” is a guaranteed laugh-out-loud experience. Between Hill dressing as Peter Pan for the school play and Tatum blowing up potassium nitrate with the chemistry geeks, you won’t find many moments to catch your breath. In fact, the hilarity might even border on overkill. But that’s for you to decide. Are Jenko and Schmidt the new “Step Brothers”? Not quite. But if you’re in need of some foolish comedic relief, “21 Jump Street” might just be the right place to go.

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