In this loose remake of the ‘80s TV series, 21 Jump Street, the premise of police officers passing off as high school students to investigate crime is kept intact.

But with rewriting, what was a crime drama starring a young Johnny Depp is now a comedy playing off chalk and cheese with former schoolmates Schmidt, played by 2011 Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill (Moneyball), and Jenko (Channing Tatum, The Vow).

Exploiting the instantly recognizable social divide, Schmidt is the socially inept high school loser with braces and a bad bleach job who finds himself at the constant receiving end of verbal abuse, courtesy of Jenko, the popular jock with little tolerance for outcasts.

Their paths cross again when they both enroll at the Metropolitan City Police Academy. The 2 form an unlikely friendship as they attempt to help each other excel physically and academically during their training.

“You ready for a lifetime of being bada**, motherf**ker?” Jenko asks Schmidt at the graduation ceremony.

“Oh, I am!” comes the reply, filled with so much conviction that you find it difficult to decide between sympathising and laughing when they are assigned park-patrolling duty, an ironic contrast from what they’d been anticipating.

When their first attempt to bust notorious drug-dealing gang, One Percenters, ends up botched, they’re assigned to 21 Jump Street, to infiltrate high schools by covering up as students, since they look the part. Their first job:  to locate and cut off their alma meter’s supplier of a synthetic drug, HFS, named after a proclamation often uttered by students who consume the drug (Holy F**king Sh*t!).

Schmidt and Jenko are also in for a surprise when they realise social norms aren’t what they once were. Possibly thanks to Glee, jocks no longer rule the school, homophobic jokes don’t cut it, and Eric, the straight-A student, environmentalist and steadfast vegan, is the popular guy who just happens to a drug dealer.

This culture shock probably deals the greatest blow to Jenko, who now finds himself mixing with Chemistry geeks and listening to conversations about molecules and hacking mobile phones, while Schmidt is reveling in his newfound popularity and getting sucked in too deep.

Tatum, who has regularly been described as wooden in movies, surprises by displaying his knack for comedy, particularly when Jenko and Schmidt run into their gym teacher and begin suffering the after-effects of consuming HFS, which makes them hallucinate. Tatum and Hill make the perfect pairing with their evident on-screen chemistry, and are convincing as high-school students, even if their characters happen to be a good few years out of touch.

In fact, Schmidt and Jenko are the exact walking, talking contradistinctions of each other: built versus plump, tall versus stocky, popular versus loser-nerd.

Preceding car chases along the highway to track down the One Percenters are also kept tight, and as the farcical tangle of events plays out right up to the showdown between the gang, the drug-dealers and Jenko and Schmidt, you can’t help but admire how cleverly done the entire film is.

Also, Johnny Depp fans rejoice: the actor makes a brief cameo as his former character, Tom Hanson, in the most unexpected manner.

Stereotypes play a huge role in the humour of the film as well.

Ice Cube, for instance, gives a commendable performance as foul-mouthed, no-nonsense Captain Dickson, Schmidt and Jenko’s black American boss with a surly complex.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he booms. “Angry, black captain. It ain’t nothing’ but a stupid stereotype. Well guess what, motherf**kers? I’m black and I worked my ass off to be the Captain!”

It’s this kind of self-deprecating humour that makes the movie witty enough to milk some serious laughs. The use of crude humour, though, may not appeal to everyone. Think Sacha Baren Cohen in Borat, but an ostensibly toned down version.

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who also did Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, clearly have a gift for churning out hit movies. Co-written by Michael Bacall and Hill, 21 Jump Street is part-Starsky and Hutch, part-Police Academy. Perhaps its most endearing quality is its ability to fearlessly reuse old comedic material, especially long-formed stereotypes, and turn it into something wholly enjoyable, even if not entirely fresh.

Movie: 21 Jump Street
Rating: 4/5
Opens: May 10
Duration: 109 mins
Language: English 
Age Rating: M18
Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: Chris Miller, Phil Lord
Cast:Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube