Getting a movie made is actually a lot harder than you might think — especially when you consider that most of them look like they’re made by a team of drunken monkeys that somehow got their hands on a high-speed camera and a boom mic.
With the advent of the Internet and video on demand, competition for your entertainment dollar is exponentially higher now than it was 20 years ago.
For a studio to risk millions of dollars to make a film, they would prefer it be based on something you are familiar with to increase the likelihood of you actually leaving your mother’s basement to shell out $12.50 for a ticket.
This is why most movies are sequels or based on international best-selling novels.
You can also adapt movies from television shows, but it can’t be anything recent because hundreds of cable channels have deeply fractured audiences, which means more people watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show than watch “Mad Men.”
So if you want to base a movie on a TV show a whole lot of people are familiar with, your best bet is to harken back to a time when television was more homogenous — which is really no later than the 1980s.
All of this is a roundabout way of explaining how we got a movie version of “21 Jump Street,” a semi-serious television show about undercover police officers posing as high school students that are best known for launching the career of Johnny Depp.
The movie has very little to do with the original show outside of the premise and in all likelihood just stole the name to encourage the studios to open up their wallets. While this all sounds dubious, I’m incredibly glad this titular larceny took place because “21 Jump Street” is one of the funniest and most outrageous comedies to come along since “The Hangover.”
Abandoning any and all pretense of seriousness, the movie is essentially about the unlikely friendship of Schmidt (Jonah Hill), a hapless nerd, and Jenko (Channing Tatum), a brainless jock, who join the police force and become partners.
The two are assigned to the Jump Street division where they are sent back to high school as undercover agents tasked with finding the supplier of a designer drug being sold by one of the students (Dave Franco, younger brother of actor James Franco).
The movie is very self-aware with lots of jokes skewering the conventions of action movies or the very idea of two men in their 20s successfully passing as high school students.
The tone is incredibly important in an action-comedy and screenwriter Michael Bacall (who also wrote the teen party comedy “Project X”) wisely puts Jenko’s and Schmidt’s relationship at the heart of the story, which helps keep the movie grounded even as the insanity whirls higher and higher.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose only other feature credit is the animated kid flick “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” keep the energy high while brilliantly getting the most out of each and every scene by packing the movie with hilarious supporting actors, most currently doing fine work on television.
The list includes Rob Riggle, Chris Parnell of “Saturday Night Live,” Ellie Kemper of “The Office,” Jake M. Johnson of “The New Girl” and Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation.”
There is also an exceptional cameo that rivals that of Bill Murray in “Zombieland.”
Ice Cube, not necessarily known for his comedy chops, might be the funniest person in the movie as the boys’ exasperated boss, Capt. Dickson. His rant about Korean Jesus is a nugget of pure comedy gold.
As for our leads, Hill being funny is no big surprise and he is very funny from beginning to end. The real revelation here is Tatum, who up till now has been best known for romantic melodramas and mindless action flicks.
Tatum displays not only a killer sense of comedic timing but his knack for physical comedy is impressive as well. Might we be witnessing another John C. Reilly-Esq career transformation?
“21 Jump Street” is as fresh and original a comedy you’ll ever find that is based on a totally stolen concept. If only all Hollywood rip-offs could be this good.
“21 Jump Street” is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking, and some violence.