Partners Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), left, and Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill), take on their first assignment on the police force in “21 Jump Street.” The movie is a comedy inspired by the 1980s TV show about young undercover cops attending high school.

Sony Pictures Entertainment/Courtesy

Partners Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), left, and Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill), take on their first assignment on the police force in “21 Jump Street.” The movie is a comedy inspired by the 1980s TV show about young undercover cops attending high school.

‘21 Jump Street’: Cops or clowns?

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“21 Jump Street”

2.5 out of 4 stars

109 minutes

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco and Ice Cube.

The illustrious position of big man on campus is one found at every high school in America. Though some of these kings of the educational system aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, most of them can at least write off their behavior to the teenage years.

Suffice it to say, the boys of “21 Jump Street” can’t make such a claim.

When Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) were in high school together, friendship was the furthest thing from their minds. After all, dweebs and jocks are natural enemies.

Their former perceptions of each other change when they enter the police academy years later. But even wearing the blue and the badge doesn’t mean they’re grown up. After the duo’s first arrest goes wrong, the only reason they aren’t canned is because they’re needed in a new department where immaturity is a boon.

Under the command of a new captain (Ice Cube), Schmidt and Jenko are ordered to go back to school undercover to infiltrate a drug ring that’s distributing a dangerously effective new substance. While Jenko welcomes the chance to roam the halls with his head held high again, Schmidt dreads repeating the worst part of his life.

However thanks to a mix-up with their new identities, Schmidt suddenly skyrockets to popularity among the students while Jenko clings to the bottom rung of the social ladder as they both quickly forget why they’re matriculating in the first place.

Hill is certainly the last person you’d ever think would be a cop, which is what makes him perfect to play a narc. Popularity is a fickle thing, but he’s willing to ride it for all it’s worth, lest he go back to the days when his chubby frame and bleached blond Eminem style hair earned him the nickname “Not-So-Slim Shady.”

As for the guy who gave him that moniker, Tatum displays a level of comic talent he hasn’t yet shown us, though his turn in last year’s “The Dilemma” could’ve been decent. It’s not easy to subtly play someone so stupid, but he pulls it off without making Jenko look like a total mouth-breather, just someone for whom the Miranda rights may as well be written in Sanskrit considering how hard it is for him to memorize.

AP chemistry classes could be a lot tougher for this likable lug if his teacher (Ellie Kemper) weren’t lusting after him and lab nerds didn’t worship him.

As for the rest of the student populace, Dave Franco — yes, James’ younger brother — is the most socially conscious drug dealer you could ever hope to meet, exiling Jenko to outcast status for his supposed homophobia and racism while inducting Schmidt into his inner circle and dubbing him cool enough to distribute the drug in question, HFS — the graphic on each baggie, a dog turd with a halo, should hint at the expletive-laced acronym — the aftereffects of which makes scourges like weed, heroin and cocaine look about as addictive as candy cigarettes. However Schmidt is hooked on something even more tantalizing: his new business associate’s girlfriend (Brie Larson), who mistakes his geeky nature for that of one cool cat.

Kids today…

When you don’t really care, stresses like homework, the school play and the track team are a breeze, yet anyone can still fall prey to peer pressure, as a wedge forms between Schmidt and Jenko. It wouldn’t be a buddy cop movie without some catalyst causing problems for partners, but things never get nearly as serious as they did in the 1980s TV show of the same name.

Like the comedy update of “Starsky & Hutch,” the decision to go for the lighter side of life on the force works, but what works even better is creating all-new characters, specifically policemen who start off as bike cops. Bicycle cops.

The premise of cops in high school is about the only thing the film version has in common with its roots and without any mopey morals or TV restrictions, the potential is unleashed. Hill and Tatum nail the combination of brainy weakling and muscle-bound moron without reverting to stereotypes and execute the meta-humor-laden script perfectly.

Once prom time comes, there’s less time for talk and more of a focus on gunplay, but a well-placed cameo or two will blow you away.

Considering it’s set in a school, “21 Jump Street” takes pride in going for dumb laughs, but dumb done right can still be pretty smart. And hey, you can still learn a thing or two from this curriculum, such as the fact that it’s possible to get stabbed in the back and not even feel it or that a flaming tanker truck doesn’t always explode when you’d expect.

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