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Movie Review: 21 Jump Street

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Say "Jump," and I'll ask, "How high?"

Say 21 Jump Street and I'll ask, "Why? Why? Why?"

Why, indeed. The answer seems to be in the credits: because Jonah Hill, who was a preadolescent when the Johnny Depp TV show of the same name was on the air, apparently was a fan of the show. So Hill turns out to be not only the star, but one of the writers and producers of 21 Jump Street, a so-so movie version of what was truthfully only a so-so TV show.

Hill tries to inoculate himself from accusations about the implicit lack of imagination involved in turning an old TV show into a movie. Early on, as Hill (as Schmidt) and Channing Tatum (as his partner/pal, Jenko) are briefed on the program that will put them undercover at a local high school, their commanding officer, played by the always funny Nick Offerman, gives a brief speech about how this program was tried once before -- and that reviving it shows a distinct lack of imagination.

Well-played, you think, since the movie is still young. If they're this self-aware, perhaps the rest of the movie will be similarly offbeat and funny.

Sorry -- only half-right.

While Hill, writer Michael Bacall and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller want to spoof cop procedurals, they also want to make an actual cop-action film. That blend of comedy and action is a tough one, almost as tough as romantic comedy. The action has to be exciting; the comedy has to be funny. It's a rare amalgam, one this sloppy film seldom achieves.

Hill and Tatum play two guys who knew each other in high school, where Jenko was the popular (but dumb) jock. Schmidt, on the other hand, was a laughable nerd, one who dressed like early Eminem, though his mouthful of braces clashed with his bleach-blond hair and the gold chain around his neck.

Ten years later, they're reunited at the police academy, where Jenko helps Schmidt get through the physical rigors of the training, while Schmidt helps Jenko survive the academics. They graduate together with dreams of battling bad guys -- only to be assigned to bike patrol in a city park. It's hard to be bad-ass when you're wearing shorts and a bike helmet.

This review continues on my website.