After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) when they go deep undercover at a local college. (Sony Pictures)

On paper, the 2012 comedy “21 Jump Street” looked like a real dog: Yet another post-Gen X nostalgia piece, this time re-processing the beloved eponymous TV series about hip undercover cops, a show best known for making Johnny Depp a star.

But when the movie came out, it immediately addressed its own dubious provenance when a deputy police chief played by Nick Offerman delivered a world-weary speech about the force being all out of ideas, played out, creatively bankrupt. After this fiendishly clever act of preemptive jiu-jitsu, “21 Jump Street” turned out to be the most delightful surprise of that spring, a slice of March madness that gave an otherwise dreary movie month a genuine reason to trudge to the multiplex.

A big part of what made “21 Jump Street” work — aside from some delicious cameos from the TV show’s original cast — was the chemistry between stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, whose relationship in the film was a brilliantly complicated skein of past resentments, unlikely bonding and, once they infiltrated a California high school as undercover narcs, wonderfully surprising role reversal. Once the jock-BMOC, Tatum’s Greg Jenko realizes his bullying tactics and beef-cake swagger are laughably square. For his part, Hill’s former shy guy Morton Schmidt discovers that misfits are cool.

Hill had long since proven his comic bona fides, but “21 Jump Street” was something of a breakout for Tatum, whose dancer’s strength and mastery of movement fit right into the film’s deft sense of physical comedy (just months later he had further honed all those skills even more skillfully in “Magic Mike”).

Perhaps it’s asking too much of a TV spinoff to strike the same vein in the sequel. But there are some encouraging signs: Hill has once again teamed with “21 Jump Street” screenwriter Michael Bacall on the script, and the directors are Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, fresh from another how’d-that-happen success d’estime, “The Lego Movie.”

(Pierre Mornet /For the Washington Post)

This time out, Jenko and Schmidt are headed to college — a situation rife with the worn-out cliches of off-the-hook ragers, offensively stereotyped students and hyper-sexualized co-eds. With luck, Hill and Bacall will navigate those pitfalls as adroitly as they did before, and make “22 Jump Street” yet another fizzy, funny surprise — not a dog, but a welcome, winsome lark.


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