I used to think Channing Tatum was kind of useless. In movie after movie, I'd watch him show up, hit his marks and deliver his lines, but he didn't seem to have a larger purpose besides looking good, just another example of how The Machine needs a continuous supply of handsome young men to chew up and, eventually, spit out. And then in that crappy Vince Vaughn/Kevin James movie The Dilemma, Tatum appears in a small role, bounces off the walls with psycho energy and delivers the only consistently funny performance in the film. Of course, nobody saw The Dilemma, so his efforts were drowned out by the public's apathy, but it was a spark of life I didn't know he had in him.
A worse example of uselessness: big-screen reboots of vintage TV shows. And while everything, no matter how cheesy, has an internet cult, there wasn't a groundswell of public desire to see 21 Jump Street at the multiplex. You'd probably find a bigger demand for an Alf or Small Wonder movie. So 10 minutes into the film, after young cops Tatum and Jonah Hill have already established an effortless and truly funny buddy-chemistry, Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) reveals that they'll be going undercover at a high school because the department is resurrecting an operation from the 1980s. And the reason why this is happening, continues Offerman, is because the people in charge lack imagination, have no original ideas left and no choice but to keep recycling worn out old programs and hope nobody notices. So if you're keeping track, that's one serving of Channing Tatum Is Actually Funny with a side of Idiotic Rebranding Operation That Understands It's Already a Joke Because the Target Audience Doesn't Remember the TV Show Anyway. Movie: 2. Your expectations: 0.
From that point it's pretty much what you think it's going to be, plot-wise. A drug sting operation operated by two men who're too busy trying to re-live high school to get the details of their mission right, stupiding their way into busting the bad guys instead (and no, that doesn't count as giving anything away). But decorating that traditional plot is a lot -- a LOT -- of nonstop funny stuff, more than you ever dreamed possible from a film version of something as earnest and silly as 21 Jump Street. Sight gags, running gags, cliché buddy-cop action gags teased and teased and ignored and then delivered on, surprises you don't see coming and a light, maybe even subconscious, emphasis on the current trend of guy-anxiety, the kind of post-Apatow comedy that springs from the panic of young male characters who can't figure out how to find their place in the world.
It's a movie that makes all the right moves to confound not only Hill and/or Tatum non-fans, but also the enthusiasts, the principled remake haters and even the people who look for term-paper-level, deeper meaning stuff. Everybody just gets to laugh their asses off. That means everybody wins.