22 Jump Street
More of the same and that’s just fine
Mismatched partners, police officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) have been handed a ridiculous assignment – they’re to enroll as college students in order to track down the source of a fatal drug that’s sweeping the campus of MC State, despite the fact that they are obviously much older than the average student there. Reluctantly, they go undercover and soon Jenko finds himself immersed in a group – the football team – where he feels right at home. Unfortunately, Schmidt is the odd man out, the eternal outsider who finds solace in his friendship with Maya (Amber Stevens), an English major who inexplicably finds him attractive. Deciding to investigate the case from their different perspectives, Schmidt and Jenko unexpectedly find their friendship tested as they each wrestle with their own existential angst, wondering if police work is what they’re truly cut out for and if they can rely on one another.
If this plot sounds woefully familiar, then you’ve seen 21 Jump Street, which is precisely the point. Explosively funny and unexpectedly smart, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 22 Jump Street is a 112-minute riff on how unnecessary movie sequels are that, in the end, proves the exact opposite. Along the way, allusions to not only the first movie but, a wide variety of other pop culture touchstones (Benny Hill anyone?), as well as the film’s very own plot conventions, pepper the narrative landscape, making this a meta exercise that Dennis Miller would be proud to call his own.
Wanting not to insult the audience while simultaneously asking the viewer, “Why exactly did you spend $9 on this?” screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman are upfront about the movie’s intentions. As the officers’ direct superior, Deputy Chief Hardy (a wonderfully deadpan Nick Offerman) points out when giving them their assignment, “This is the exact same thing as last time.” We’ve been warned. But Lord and Miller don’t simply take the money and run by giving us the same bill of goods, as much as sending up the notion of sequels and our desire to sit through them. In skewering the inflated budgets, sequels are allotted. Captain Dickson (a wonderful Ice Cube) points out that money has been wasted moving his operation to a bigger location across the street – a Vietnamese church instead of a Korean one like last time – as well as needless upgrades within, like a raised office from him with clear walls that Jenko points out “looks just like a cube of ice.” Get it?
Jokes like this abound, from a car chase on campus that wipes out numerous pieces of art just for the hell of it to characters who reveal themselves to be nothing more than plot devices (watch the tattoos) and nothing more. Postmodern barbs are thrown out left and right while visual gags pop up again and again in the background (What’s the name of the campus’ film center again?) that eagle-eyed viewers and those of a certain age will appreciate.
While this may sound as though the film is nothing but an exercise in self-reflection, all involved know that much of the success of the first movie came from it ribald humor. They succeed on this front as well, delivering not as many gags but ones of higher potency. When the film is funny, it’s explosively funny, to the point of laughing until you’re gasping for breath. Maya’s roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell) rips into Schmidt with a litany of barbs about him obviously being much older than them that’s as pointed as it is vicious. A scene with the perps from the first film, the now-incarcerated cellmates Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle) and Eric Molson (Dave Franco) is a mandatory cameo that doesn’t feel unnecessary because it’s so funny; while a sequence in which Dickson gets a piece of unwanted news proves once and for all that Cube is the secret weapon in both these films. But hands down, the funniest moment I’ve seen all year belongs to Tatum who, when he finds out about Dickson’s distress, delivers a wholly inappropriate celebration dance that will leave you breathless.
To be sure, 22 Jump Street delivers more of the same but does so in such a way that, like a favorite meal, you don’t mind eating it more than once as long as the quality remains the same. As to what 23 Jump Street might bring us, a look at this film’s credit sequence gives us some idea of what Lord and Miller have in mind, all of which looks far smarter and more funny than most of the comedic fare that litters the multiplex.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.