It has an odd ring to it, doesn’t it: 21 Jump Street, starring Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill.

Hollywood’s latest remake of a barely remembered TV show, this one an 80s police drama featuring then teen idol Johnny Depp, arrives with a splash of Oscars pedigree. And, in terms of surprises, that ain’t the half of it.

Predictably this buddy cop comedy in which undercover partners Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent back to high school to bust a drug ring contains spongy plot lines about learning to behave “young” again, being cool and being a dork, a shoot-out or two, an explosion or two, a house party where raucous guests guzzle booze and chug down joints, a vomit gag here and there. Ho-hum stuff, right? One more round of same-old same-old, yeah? Another lame comedy doused in half-comatose fratboy humour, surely? 

Hold onto your beer bongs and lava lamps, people, because co-directors Phil Lloyd and Chris Miller have defied every bit of audience expectation, transcended plain ol’ common sense and fashioned a sharp, smart and fiendishly entertaining romp packed full of laughs.

Screenwriter Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) sprinkles just the right amount of post-modern pulp to keep the proceedings sassy and self-reflective, in a wink wink we-know-what-we’re-doing kind of way. A scene in which Schmidt and Jenko, dialled on strange drugs, faces sagging and tongues flopping about like poisoned ferns, speak to the PE teacher is an real rib tickler.

At this point in his career Tatum is perfect as the bawdy Stifler type, and lowbrow comedy allows him some leeway (unlike getting his dramatic game on in something as turgid as the sickly tissue box drama Dear John). Chemistry between Tatum and Hill is bang-on, the right amount of bromance and bickering matched with classic odd couple pairing: smart and slow, big and muscular, short and tubby…

The later, of course, applies to Hill, though he’s not nearly as tubby as he used to be. Hill has slimmed down, forfeiting with his excess weight a chance at being a younger gen’s John Candy, but no matter. If Hill keeps choosing comedies — or even Oscar-nominated dramas — that play to his strengths as an anti-cool everyday man (Get Him to the Greek, Superbad, Moneyball etc) he’ll be just fine.

21 Jump Street’s Australian theatrical release date: March 15, 2012.