Proving that sometimes recycled material can be a good thing, "21 Jump Street" manages to be a lot of fun.

This is a solid comedy that doesn't try too hard. It knows it is rather silly fluff, so it revels in its own raunchy silliness - creating a comedy that delivers plenty of laughs.

Loosely based on the 1980s television series, "21 Jump Street" follows Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), two new police recruits who are assigned to an undercover unit where they are asked to pose as high school students and infiltrate a drug ring.

They arrive at high school, discovering that things have drastically changed. Schmidt, a dork during his high school days, is now popular - immediately befriended by the cool kids (including Brie Larson and Dave Franco). Jenko, popular in high school, finds himself on the outside looking in, unable to connect with the new student body.

That is part of the fun of "21 Jump Street," watching Hill and Tatum reverse roles we've grown accustomed to seeing them play. They actually have good chemistry, with Tatum being the biggest surprise. This is one of the better performances of his career - the usually stoic actor shows some comedic chops.

Franco, the younger brother of James Franco, is pretty good, too. There are also fun supporting roles from Ice Cube and Rob Riggle.

For the most part, "21 Jump Street" unfolds with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It's a movie that realizes how silly it is and uses that as a source for many of the film's funniest moments.

Just when it looks like "21 Jump Street" is running out of steam, in comes a nod to the TV series that is nothing short of brilliant - a pleasant surprise in a comedy that's full of surprises.

DVD dandy of the week

This week's dandy is "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (A-), the American adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best-selling novel.

As a huge fan of the novel - the first in a three-book series - and the subsequent Swedish film, there was perhaps no other film in 2011 that I anticipated more.

Thanks to the keen direction of David Fincher and a breakout performance from Rooney Mara, I wasn't disappointed. This version is true to the source material, a dark and, at times, disturbing piece of work.

For those unfamiliar with "Dragon Tattoo," the story centers on a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), and a brilliant, yet troubled, young computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Mara).

When Blomkvist loses a libel case over a story written about a billionaire, he is hired by a wealthy patriarch named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his niece 40 years earlier. Vanger believes his niece was murdered and someone in his eccentric family is behind the crime.

As Blomkvist's investigation starts to uncover a tangled web of lies and deceit, he seeks Salander's aid to piece together the rather disturbing puzzle.

After grabbing the audience's attention with one of the best title sequences of 2011 (aided by Trent Reznor's pulsating score), Fincher uses the same approach he applied so successfully to one of his previous films, "Zodiac." There is a cold and calculated, almost procedural, feel, which fits the material quite well.

Fincher tweaks a few details that will be obvious to those who have read the novels, but it's not a complete overhaul and it doesn't really make much difference in the overall story.

At its roots, this is a story in which the central theme is violence against women and the women who fight back. It's not an easy sell, but Fincher never flinches from the uneasy material, allowing it to keep its full dramatic effect intact.

The cast, which also includes Stellan Skarsgard and Robin Wright, is really good, but Mara stands out. Noomi Rapace was so iconic in the Swedish film, it's a credit to Mara that she manages to disappear into this complex character and make it her own.

I'm eager to see where Mara goes from here and I look forward to seeing her return to the big screen as Lisbeth when the second film in the series ("The Girl Who Played With Fire," tentatively scheduled for a 2013 release) hits the big screen.

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is rated R for brutal violent content, including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language. It is available on DVD.

 

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