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Stars talk '21 Jump Street'

By Abbey Goodman, Special to CNN
updated 5:11 PM EDT, Thu March 15, 2012
"Channing [Tatum, left] walks away with this movie because you've never seen him do anything like this before," says Jonah Hill.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum go undercover to bust a drug ring in "21 Jump Street"
  • "I loved the TV show growing up," Tatum said
  • Hill: "I'm never remaking anything again. I don't want that to be something I'm known for"

(CNN) -- "I really did not want to make a TV show into a movie," Jonah Hill admits while promoting his newest movie, "21 Jump Street."

Yes, that one.

And yet, here we are, on the heels of the reboot's release.

In the wickedly funny, bromance-erific update of the 1987 cult series that launched Johnny Depp's career, Hill and Channing Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko respectively: two former high school rivals (as seen in a flashback to 2005 when Schmidt was a nerdy Eminem wannabe and Jenko was the hot-but-dumb jock) who later become friends when they reacquaint in police academy. They go undercover as students in order to bust up a new synthetic drug ring.

Most similarities to the source material end right there. (Except for this one little thing.)

"[I thought the idea of remaking the show was] really lazy and stupid and eye-rolling and unoriginal," Hill says, echoing a self-referential joke that appears early in the movie. "But there was a 'Back to the Future' element of reliving your high school years and what is that like? What if you think you have all the answers and you go back and you have none of the answers? That, to me, is a really strong idea for a movie. Whether it was called "21 Jump Street" or it was called "Narcs" or it was called "Two Cops Go Back to High School," I don't give a s***. It was that idea that captivated me."

"I loved the TV show growing up," Tatum adds. "I'm not kidding you; I watched it every single week. I would want to see this done, but it's not like it's 'The Godfather' the TV show. It's not sacred territory."

Once Hill and Tatum (who are also executive producers), screenwriter Michael Bacall, and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller honed their "'Bad Boys' meets John Hughes" sensibility, they struck the fine balance of both paying homage to the show and abandoning it entirely for a result that is full of fun, wit, action, affection and penis jokes. Lots of them. But more on that later.

When Schmidt and Jenko return to high school, they find that, in the seven years since they were last students, the social hierarchy of teenagers has been completely upended. Unlike the days when Schmidt was the outcast and Jenko ruled the school, all the coolest kids now hate sports and love recycling. The alpha male is played by Dave Franco (James' younger brother) and his idea of a good time is strumming his acoustic guitar and singing songs about the environment. In this universe, Schmidt becomes the most popular guy in school, while the only friends Jenko can scare up are the science geeks.

"I think originally we thought [Jenko] should hang out with nerds and I should be cool," Hill says, "but [the directors] came up with the funny idea to make it that the cool guys like green stuff. I thought it was funny when Channing came on [to the movie] to really have him be around nerds. When he met these kids in the audition, it was like him meeting E.T. It was literally like God meeting aliens. He had never hung around people like this before. Just them talking was fascinating in a funny way."

That's when the cameras weren't rolling, but Tatum -- who we already know can nail sexy/shirtless from the "Step Up" dance movies, action blockbusters like "G.I. Joe" and chick-flicks like "The Vow" -- delivers an impressive breakout comedic performance on-screen that plays perfectly with Hill's well-honed chops.

"It seemed like some of the most fun that I've read," Tatum recalls. "I was like, as long as you promise me I'll be funny, I'll sign off. And [Hill] really helped me and held my hand all the way through it."

"I think Channing walks away with this movie," Hill says, "because you've never seen him do anything like this before. He's great because he didn't put a wall up or say, oh man, I'm scared, maybe I shouldn't do this. He was just funny and raw in every scene and that's why we became friends, because we are both down to kill ourselves for our movie and don't care about anything else besides it being awesome. I love this guy. He kills it in this movie."

Amid the raunchy humor and sight gags comes one particular gross-out moment at the end of the movie that was improvised at the last minute. It's so over-the-top, so so-wrong-it's-right, Hill says it makes cinematic history. It involves Rob Riggle's wayward genitalia, in real life a corn syrup-covered banana.

"They literally ran over to craft services and cut a banana," says Riggle, who plays a gym teacher at the school. "And I was like, why are you cutting it?"

We won't give it away, but it gets worse from there.

"But," Riggle says, "I looked at Jonah and was like, yup, we gotta do this."

"I will say, I take full credit [for the idea]," Hill says. "But, I will also take full credit for when they showed Chan and I the movie, I was the wrongest I've ever been when I said you can't put that in the movie because people will throw up. Now it's one of the best reactions I've seen in a movie theater. [The scene] is a crazy thing I'd never seen before in a movie. I was so wrong. I gotta give props to Rob for just going for it."

Now that "21 Jump Street" has proven that remakes don't have to suck, which other '80s shows would they like to see on film?

"I don't know if I'd be running to make any after this one -- it would become too much of a trend," Tatum says. "But, if I had to pick one, probably 'Cheers.'"

Hill concurs. "I'm never remaking anything again. I don't want that to be something I'm known for. They came to me with a bunch of TV shows after this started going and I was like, take that elsewhere. But, I think if someone was going to remake something from the '80s, I would hope someone would remake 'Small Wonder.' But it should be someone like Todd Solondz. Some little girl robot who lives in a closet. Her dad made her. It's very dark and weird. I always thought that that would make a great movie."

"21 Jump Street" hits theaters on March 16.

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