21 Jump Street ★★★★★

"21 Jump Street" has no business working as well as it does. A comic reimagining of a television series from the Fox network's formative years, the film, at face value, inspires little confidence. In the hands of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, "21 Jump Street," however, is turned into a smart, hilarious, and slightly meta take on high school, film remakes, and undercover cops.

The premise of the film and television series finds undercover police officers placed, undercover, in high schools. Where the series was serious toned, the film is a raucous comedy. The undercover cops, played by a surprisingly unwooden Channing Tatum and the always game Jonah Hill, are of the bumbling misfit ilk, and their undercover adventure is commensurately bumbling.

Michael Bacall's script is consistently funny and treats the film's premise with restrained reverence. It does not make fun of the televsion series; it simply allows the source material's comedic potentialities and possiblities to shine through. The jokes and gags come fast and furiously. There is raunch and cleverness, physical comedy and verbal wit. The film's comic beats are placed evenly throughout the film with very little downtime between the gags.

Quick and self-aware, sincere and unceasingly funny, "21 Jump Street" may be 2012's best comedy. The cast works well, and Channing Tatum treads new territory, playing a role with actual personality. The production is solid, and the direction focuses on keeping the film tight. The resulting experience is sometimes sidesplitting and always entertaining.

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