The commercials for 21 Jump Street make the film look like another lazy and uninspired remake of some old TV show that people born after 1989 don’t care about. Land of the LostThe A-Team, and The Dukes of Hazzard are just three examples of recent films like this that could just as easily have been titled The Paycheck.

I’ve never seen an episode of the 1980s TV show on which21 Jump Street is based, and going into the screening I didn’t even know the premise. The centerpiece of the ads is a scene in which Jonah Hill shoves an old lady into a pile of shoeboxes. It didn’t look too promising. In fact, I only signed up to review the film in the first place because it meant I would be given an opportunity to interview the film’s stars at the Ritz-Carlton (more on that later).

Well, it turns out the folks at the studio took a page out of the FX Network marketing handbook by severely underselling the comedic value of their product. The shoebox scene was one of the few lame parts of the film, but 21 Jump Street on the whole is a shockingly inspired action-comedy.

The film starts out very quickly, wasting no time in getting us to the main premise. Within about 10 minutes, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are on their undercover job as high school students. Hill’s character is the physically inept brains of the operation, and Tatum is the mentally inept brawn. After a failed takedown, they’re assigned to infiltrate a drug ring at a local high school, because they “look young.” Soon, Hill has a love interest at the school, Tatum’s jock character is stuck hanging out with the nerds and the pair become deeply entangled in their new identities.

Especially in the film’s first half, there was a very Superbad-esque feel. This wasn’t just because of the high school setting and the crazy house parties that feature prominently in both films, but also because of the style of absurd, self-aware humor that made Superbad one of the best comedies of the decade. While Jonah Hill didn’t write Superbad, he certainly took some of the comedic lessons he learned from being involved in that movie and applied them to the script of 21 Jump Street, which he wrote along with Michael Bacall.

Channing Tatum, meanwhile, is surprisingly funny and endearing throughout, and his interplay with Hill is at times comedic gold. Tatum has made the move from drama to broad comedy much more effortlessly and effectively than James Franco did in Pineapple Express. Franco’s 26-year-old brother Dave, incidentally, has a large role in the film as the ringleader of the high school drug dealers. (The irony of an actual 26-year-old playing an 18-year-old in a movie about 26-year-olds pretending to be 18 year-olds was not lost on me.)

The second half of the film got a little heavy on the action, but it was handled in a much funnier way than most action-comedy movies, which usually drop the humor during intense scenes. The supporting cast was superb, with Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper and Rob Riggle all adding depth and humor to the film in small roles. Ice Cube was also great as Tatum and Hill’s boss, with his relentless over-the-top intensity that could not have been more of a contrast to his impossibly laid-back demeanor when I interviewed him.

After the movie, I was fortunate to be able to interview the cast in a hotel room at the Ritz, first with Tatum and Hill for 15 minutes and then with Ice Cube for 15 minutes. Tatum seemed really excited and genuinely thankful to be starring in a comedy for the first time in his career, and he and Hill seemed like genuine friends. Like me, Hill had never watched the TV show growing up, while Tatum had watched it a few times. Hill said that he made sure it was in his contract that the movie be R-rated, which was certainly a shrewd move on his part. He said he wanted the film to be John Hughes meets Bad Boys, and I can safely say he succeeded. Fun fact: Did you know Channing Tatum doesn’t like ice cream?

The first question directed toward Ice Cube was something along the lines of, “How was the transition from rapping to acting?” In response, Cube launched into a convincing five-minute-long takedown of people who call him a sellout. I guess students must have been calling him out for that at other stops on the press tour because he went on the defensive unprovoked. I definitely agreed with Cube when he said that one of his favorite parts of the movie was when Nick Offerman’s (Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation) police officer character lamentingly described the undercover assignment he was giving Hill and Tatum as a lazy recycling of an old idea the department had in the 80s, chiding the department for being unoriginal in another refreshingly self-aware reference to the film being a refried old TV show. Fun fact: Did you know Ice Cube hasn’t changed the lock screen image on his iPhone away from that default globe?

Overall, 21 Jump Street is definitely worth seeing, and I’m having a hard time thinking of a movie that more effectively mixed action and comedy. I gave it four stars, and it’s closer to five stars than three stars. If the movie had a different title and better commercials, and if it was more publicized that Hill himself was the writer, it would be a sure hit with young audiences. That being said, once word of mouth gets around, it may end up being a hit anyway.

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