Subversively clever and funny from start to finish, 22 Jump Street could be the funniest sequel to a hit comedy feature film as any that’s ever been made. By embracing, celebrating, and parodying its concept as a “more-of-the-same” follow-up, the new film exceeds its predecessor, 2012’s 21 Jump Street, in every measurable way, and sets a new standard by which future buddy-cop action comedies should be measured.
When audiences last saw Detectives Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), they had just successfully wrapped up their first undercover assignment, as well as their second time through high school, and were being assigned by their loud and abrasive Jump Street CO, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) to a new case … in college! When that assignment (which isn’t exactly what the guys think its going to be) goes hilariously awry thanks to an encounter with exotic animal smugglers led by an international criminal known only as “Ghost” (Peter Stormare), they find themselves re-assigned to a case very much like their first one: infiltrate the student body at Metropolitan State University (hey, what else would the major university in Metro City be named?) and uncover the source of the new drug of choice on campus, “WHYPHY” (yup, that’s pronounced just like Wi-Fi), which apparently resulted in the recent death of a student.
As Jenko and Schmidt re-assume their cover identities as brothers Brad and Doug McQuayde and assimilate themselves into campus life, once again they find themselves drawn in different social directions: “Brad” makes quick friends on the MSU football team with the team’s budding star quarterback, Zook (Wyatt Russell), while “Doug” catches the eye of art major Maya (Amber Stevens) and starts hanging with the Arts and Theater majors.
Will Jenko and Schmidt’s partnership survive the collegiate challenges of bro-mance borne on the college gridiron, poetry slams, fraternity initiations, horrible roommates, Parents Weekend, and Spring Breakers in Mexico long enough to crack the case? Or was their success on the last case just a one-time fluke, and that friendship forged in the crucible of being each other’s long-delayed prom dates just a “high school” thing? Find out on the next episode of … well, you get the idea.
While the formula for the success of Tatum and Hill’s first Jump Street film was built on having fun with a variety of 80’s buddy cop movie cliches — mismatched partners, a police captain who does nothing but yell and berate the heroes, unexpected romance, etc. — the new film cheekily takes on and upends cliches found in the nuts and bolts of ALL action movie sequels. Bigger budgets, more exotic locations, more cars, buildings, and other inanimate and often expensive objects blown to smithereens, it’s all utilized while basically telling the same story as was told in the first film in almost exactly the same way.
What makes it all work so brilliantly is the willingness on the part of writers Michael Bacall (who scripted the last film), Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman to include tons of smart in-jokes and jabs at the genre itself, jokes that today’s snark-attuned audiences would most likely be making while watching the film were the actors on screen not already doing it. Have Jenko and Schmidt banter about the convenience of there being a larger, nicer Vietnamese church that just happens to be at 22 Jump Street when their previous digs at the Korean church at 21 Jump Street are unavailable? Sure! Have them point out how Captain Dickson’s new swanky office in their new headquarters looks just like a CUBE of ICE? Get it? Of course you do! Have a guy and a girl in the midst of a fistfight with each other stop and ask confusedly if they’re actually about to kiss and have sex? Come on, you all saw Mr. and Mrs. Smith, so it’s a reasonable question! Or how about just about every character remarking at some point in the film how the case is unfolding EXACTLY the same way that the last one did? Why not? All these things are going to be obvious to the audience that saw the last film — why shouldn’t it be apparent to the characters?
In addition to all that, Bacall and his writers, as well as Tatum and Hill themselves, continue to find new ways to have fun with just how much dialogue between partner detectives in these films can be full of all sorts of homoerotic overtones. Whether it’s the guys having that oh-so-awkward and familiar painful conversation about perhaps needing time to investigate apart and to sow their wild investigative oats, or actually sitting on a psychologist’s coach talking about their now-dysfunctional partnership while the therapist clearly believes they’re describing a different kind of relationship, it’s all played fearlessly and flawlessly by Hill and the yet-again-surprisingly funny Tatum. If only Channing Tatum would stick to this sort of comedy, as opposed to taking on actual serious action roles, but then again, if he didn’t do that other stiff and stolid action hero stuff, it wouldn’t be nearly as funny when he takes shots at that kind of film making in parodies like this.
Finally, it should be said that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller know the action/buddy cop genre well enough to not only skillfully skewer it with parody, but also to bring to life in a satisfying way. While 22 Jump Street is no doubt a comedy first and an action film second, the car chases, fight scenes, and gun battles that are here are executed with skill and style, even when that style consciously apes and parodies the work of action auteurs like John Woo and Luc Besson. Take note, would-be writers and producers of parody films of any genre: this is how it should be done.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
22 Jump Street
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Peter Stormare, and Ice Cube. Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence.