Two years ago, Phil Lord and Chris Miller did the unthinkable: they ripped an outdated basic conceit straight from the 80's, re-appropriated it for the new millennium, and wound up turning out one of the decade's most surprisingly effective and hilarious movies. Given its background, 21 Jump Street's commercial and critical success came as something of a surprise to audiences and critics alike. It's a rare example of how an adaptation can deviate from the source material with tongue firmly in cheek and still work like gangbusters.
Even better, the film is a closed circuit. Lord and Miller tease at a sequel in its closing moments, yes, but 21 Jump Street is self-contained and wraps itself up nicely, leaving them free to ignore the call of franchising and take on other wacky projects, like The Lego Movie. Now it's 2014, and despite 21 Jump Street's apparent disinterest siring a follow-up, we're facing down 22 Jump Street, which opens wide in theaters in just a week and a half. The lesson here is simple: never underestimate the power of good box office.
So Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have gotten back together for a jaunt through college, courtesy of matchmakers Lord and Miller. That needn't be so bad; the quartet gelled well last time (and then some), and Lord and Miller are in a creative place where they can very nearly do no wrong. Why make 22 Jump Street? The better question might be "why not", especially since trailers for the movie hint at all kinds of hilarity (sight gags, wordplay, and slapstick, oh my!). All sequels bring a measure of trepidation with them, of course, but the continued adventures of Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) are in Lord's and Miller's capable hands.
And it seems like they've stuck the landing with this one, too. Early reviews have begun pouring in, and the response thus far is almost uniformly positive. The most effusive bits of praise come from the folks at Slashfilm and Collider, respectively, with both firing off 140 laudatory characters via Twitter after seeing the movie for themselves. Naturally, that's a small space in which to fully critique anything, but a thumbs up is a thumbs up no matter how you cut it:
22 Jump Street is f**king hilarious. Even better than you might expect, following lord/miller's under promise / over deliver model.
— Peter Sciretta (@slashfilm) June 3, 2014
22 JUMP STREET had me laughing from the start to the very last scene. Awesome sequel and a great movie. Lord and Miller deliver again.
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) June 3, 2014
But they're not alone. The common thread among all of the 22 Jump Street reviews hitting the web lies in humor. If we take the forward word on the film at face value, 22 Jump Street could well be the funniest film of 2014 by a country mile. At this point, patting Lord and Miller on the back for their sense of humor feels like old hat; these guys don't like to let a moment go by without cracking wise, filling the air with as many one-liners, improv, and off-the-cuff references as humanly to keep things from getting stale.
It's a smart tactic, one that alternately distracts from and softens the blow of the other common thread seen in these pieces, namely pacing issues. 22 Jump Street runs at two hours in length, thereabouts; that's a lot of time to sustain a story about two cops sent to work undercover among 20-somethings due to their youthful looks. But Lord and Miller have pulled it off, it seems, presenting such an entertaining picture that these issues wind up amounting to so much critical flotsam. Minor flaws aside, 22 Jump Street sounds like a winner:
...by sticking to the template, Lord, Miller and the writers can focus on perfecting the formula, mostly by making it, if anything, even funnier. This time out, the film positively dense with jokes, almost all of which are good. Unlike many studio comedies, arguably including the original, it doesn't need to stop being funny in order to tell a story, and almost every scene has been wrung out for gags to some degree or another.
Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist
Yet so relentless is the entertainment, and so densely packed are the laughs (you're never more than five minutes away from the next one), that the running time is easy to overlook. There's a surprising range of comedy here too, with sight gags, one liners, physical humour and long-lead set-ups all mixed together. Then there are enough film nods to warrant a second viewing immediately, right down to a Kubrick reference that pretty much makes you gag on the spot.
Simon Brew, Den of Geek
The most reliable humor here comes from the film's 30 Rock-like way of drawing attention to the showbiz cliches it's indulging in, but Ice Cube wasn't joking about the production value: In addition to meta gags, we do get big stunty chases and the like, especially when the action moves south for Spring Break. The finale is totally ridiculous but fun, finally allowing these two mismatched buddies to form one perfect unit of cop-flick cool.
John DeFore, THR
Lord and Miller find the perfect balance between giving us more of what made “21” such a success and providing enough new material so that “22” doesn't feel like a complete retread. Among the latter is a reversal of fortunes for the buddy cops; this time, it's Jenko who finds his groove on campus (among some inoffensive lunkheads), while Schmidt discovers his emo side when abandoned first by his partner, then by the effortlessly cool girl (Amber Stevens) who's not so sure about him in the cold light of day.
Inkoo Kang, The Wrap
There are only a few occasions where some of the jokes feel over-worked and the pace sags but even then Lord and Miller always seem to have something up their sleeve to put the film back on track. It's a wildly entertaining feel-good movie that not only rates as one of the best mainstream comedies of the year but also one of the finest sequels you likely to see.
Rob Carnevale, The List
A movie this self-aware might easily drown in its own ironic detachment, but as they did so deftly in both “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie,” Lord and Miller balance their smartypants meta-humor with go-for-broke pratfalls and a certain fundamental sincerity that keeps the characters relatable without ever veering into straight-faced emotionalism. (When it seems that the movie might, along comes a good, old-fashioned crotch-grabbing gag to lighten the air.) Perhaps owing to their background in animation (where they did “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), Lord and Miller also know how to sell a joke visually better than most contemporary comedy directors, and “22 Jump Street” is rife with delightful throwaway visual gags, from De Palma-esque split screens to a car chase (between Hummer and helmet-shaped golf cart) that might have been designed by ‘60s-era Richard Lester.
Scott Foundas, Variety
If 22 Jump Street wasn't already a must see based on the sheer unexpected quality of 21 Jump Street, then this cavalcade of advance enthusiasm ought to clinch your ticket purchase. Check back in with Screen Rant as opening date arrives for our own thoughts on the film.
22 Jump Street opens on June 13th, 2014.