I have my own personal blacklist I keep of actors that I don't watch, and Johnny Depp is near the top. I don't mind him in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, nor as one third of the replacement for Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but I've never seen him as a pirate, and I try to avoid anything in which he is linked to Tim Burton or Hunter S. Thompson. So I've never seen the original television version of 21 Jump Street. But despite the movie version's connection to Depp (and the rumors that he would have a cameo in it), I'd heard enough positive opinions of the film to make me overcome my aversion and give it a shot. I'm glad I did.
The film begins with Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) in high school, where they run in different circles. Schmidt is an Eminem wannabe who rarely gets up the courage to talk to girls and gets rejected whenever he does, while Jenko is a popular but brainless jock, and the only reason they know each other is that the former is often the butt of the latter's jokes. But that's enough to allow them to recognize each other a few years later when they both find themselves struggling through the police academy. Schmidt aces all the exams but fails the physical challenges, while Jenko has the opposite problem. But unlike high school, they decide to team up and help each other, and they manage to pass the academy.
But just because they managed to pass doesn't make them good cops. When they completely flub their first attempted bust, their captain (played by Nick Offerman) reassigns them to an undercover division attempting to infiltrate area high schools. They can kind of pass for high school students, and Sagan High has a growing and potentially fatal drug problem. Schmidt dreads this duty since he had a hard enough time in high school the first time around, but Jenko is pumped about once again being able to rule the school and be the center of attention. But while Jenko is beginning to realize that maybe you can't go home again, Schmidt has to deal with the even more horrifying reality that maybe you can.
Everyone seems to be saying that this is the best comedy of the year so far, and they're right. It's true that there isn't a whole lot of competition so far, but it would have given most 2011 comedies a run for their money as well. It's got quite a bit of action mixed in with the comedy, so it stays lively even if it is a little longer than the average comedy. It usually avoids falling into most of the standard cliches that other films like this seem to find, and it creates some pretty great images that help enhance its humor. There is perhaps a bit of creepiness with a kind of romance between a high school student and someone only pretending to be a high school student, but what's even creepier is that it somehow makes the audience root for it to work out.
21 Jump Street manages to be both a good comedy and a good action film, and sometimes even both at the same time. There are a lot of well-known actors giving solid performances, including a few cameos from the original television show, and they're generally given good roles to play rather than simply relying on audience recognition for effect. I'm not sure that I want to watch it over and over, but it was certainly a much better movie than you might have expected based only on the source material and main cast.