22 Jump Street finds detectives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) doing adult undercover work while still dealing with the turbulence in their partnership. When Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) pulls the odd pair back into the Jump Street program, they are psyched at the prospect of tackling a case almost identical to their first one – only from the more raucous setting of college, this time.
However, things don’t go quite as planned: the “same old, same old” just doesn’t seem to cut with this new case, and in the collegiate setting it’s Jenko (not Schmidt) who finds his place among the school’s frat boy jock elite. With their cop mojo and bromance both out of whack, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves in over their heads; can they break out of their 21 Jump Street molds and find a new approach to both their police work and their friendship, in time to catch the crooks?
Comedy sequels are often some of the biggest disappointments (Hangover 2 being a recent example for many), for the proven reason that when it comes to humor in particular, lighting almost never strikes twice. Comedy follow-ups have the thinnest of lines to walk between retaining familiarity and inspiring new laughs, and it’s a precarious balance to maintain for the entirety of a feature-film run time. Facing that challenge, 21 Jump Street and LEGO Movie directos Chris Miller and Phil Lord have once again defied filmmaking logic and injected a second shot of life into the Jump Street brand.
As always with Lord and Miller, the key is in approach: 22 Jump Street succeeds entirely because if its own self-awareness that it is, ostensibly, an obligatory studio sequel intended to achieve success through mimicry. With the filmmakers in on the joke, there is breathing room to approach the material with clarity and purpose, hitting the necessary character beats (the Schmidt/Jenko bromance) and maintaining the necessary consistency in tone with the first film.
Best yet, the confidence in the approach to the core storyline and comedic style allows Lord and Miller to go into LEGO Movie territory with Easter eggs and references. 22 Jump Street is a virtual cornucopia of nods and winks (and a few middle fingers) to other action movies and/or directors, making it a richly dense viewing experience, in addition to being a funny one. Also helping to preserve the freshness of the proceedings is the fact that the movie so regularly mocks its own ‘bigger budget, bigger spectacle,’ hollowness, thereby countering most of the usual “sequelitis” drag. There are still some moments in the episodic lineup that don’t hit that well – but as always, comedy is subjective and for the most part the filmmakers have a strong lineup of scenes and gags to offer.
Screenwriters Michael Bacall (21 Jump Street), Oren Uziel (Mortal Kombat: Rebirth) and Rodney Rothman (Grudge Match) – with Hill contributing to the story – get points for some great sequences, running gags, callbacks and also some nice narrative twists that deliver some great payoffs. However, it’s not a total victory on the script front.
Even with some twists on expectations, at its core, the sequel is pretty much the same overall setup as the first film – ironically or otherwise – and in between the steady feed of hilarity, the character drama and thematic points often feel like rehash rather than progression or advancement. While the movie claims to be the next step in the Jenko/Schmidt relationship, the sequel really feels like a situation where the characters lose and then re-gain the same ground established in the first installment. (An especially hilarious credits sequence all but confirms the fact that the filmmakers, too, know that the Jump Street well has been drained dry after two runs.)
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill make the ride once again worthwhile – whether covering the same type of material or breaking into new territory. Marital banter, physical comedy gags, a reversed loser/winner perspective within the college setting; the duo are given enough to do in order to generate the necessary renewed passion and commitment to the material. Tatum, now more comfortable in the comedic playhouse, gets some nice understated legwork out of Jenko’s lunk-head mentality; not to be outdone, Hill gets some equally good laughs working Schmidt’s passive-aggressive neurosis. In short: the boys get enough of an old/new mix to keep them confident but also committed to going for broke all over again.
In addition to the two leads, 22 Jump Street is packed with a lineup of supporting actors and cameos appearances who all manage to score fairly big. Amber Stevens (Greek) makes a strong impression as Maya, Schmidt’s feisty art student love interest – while Workaholics actress Jillian Bell is a breakout hit as Mercedes, Maya’s creepy roommate. Ice Cube is given a bit more to do with his tough-guy captain role, while Cowboys & Aliens actor Wyatt Russell provides a good bro for Tatum’s Jenko to vibe with (the pair are pretty hilarious together). Other great appearances come from Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec), twin actors The Lucas Brothers, newcomer Jimmy Tatro and Peter Stormare, playing his usual nefarious bad guy role – as well as callbacks from the first film like Rob Riggle and Dave Franco (a moment regrettably spoiled by the trailers).
In the end, 22 Jump Street pulls off the comedy sequel balancing act better than just about any comparative franchise (read: The Hangover), recapturing most of the magic created by its odd pair leads while managing to offer something (slightly) different – with extra points for skewing its own sequelness along the way. Sure, in a larger sense the journey is still about two cops (who look way too old for school) trying to break up a campus drug ring; but the journey proves to be just as worthwhile the second time around – for some fans, maybe even better than the first time out.
22 Jump Street is now in theaters. It is 112 minutes and is Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence.
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