We all know that sequels are a tricky thing. Comedy sequels even more so. For every Ghostbusters II there are 100 Grown Ups 2. Ok, there’ll only ever be one Grown Ups 2 but you get my point. The mantra of studios and filmmakers when putting these sequels together seems to simply be “let’s do everything we did before, except…more!” It’s that lack of self-awareness that produces bloated schlock like Austin Powers 3: Goldmember and Evan Almighty. Make no mistake, 22 Jump Street is bloated, it is loud, it is obnoxious, it is juvenile and it is wholly unnecessary. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t in on the joke the entire way.
Of course, simply being aware of exactly what it is isn’t enough to make a comedy film worthwhile. The jokes also have to hit, and for the most part they do that here. The self-awareness of directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) is the film’s driving force. Some of it works, some of it does not. Ice Cube, back again as Captain Dickson, is a true highlight. Cube’s gruff demeanor and vocal delivery is put to great use as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s ball-busting boss. Like many of the characters in the film, Captain Dickson is a heavily exaggerated composite character. In his case, the asshole superior we’ve seen so many times in self-serious cop movies. Yet, instead of coming off stale, the exchanges between he and Hill and Tatum are hilarious, with everyone attempting to one-up each other with one-liners and downright cruel comments. It’s worth noting that Captain Dickson – who had a relatively minor role in 21 Jump Street – due to a clever twist, becomes a crucial part of the mix this go-round.
Unfortunately, not every character hits the marks. Nick Offerman’s Chief Hardy, while driving home the point that “this is just like last time,” is ultimately wasted. I realize Offerman has made a career out of dropping in on movies for brief appearances in between his Parks & Recreation gig, I can’t help but feel that his unique brand of deadpan could have been put to better use than it was here. Rob Riggle, on the other hand, is in his element reprising his role as the obnoxious, foul-mouthed Mr. Walters. Yet, even in his approximately 4 minutes of screen time, he’s just too much. The majority of his rapid fire jokes fall flat and his overtly sexual relationship with Dave Franco’s Eric Molson comes off more disturbing than creepy.
These minor missteps can be easily forgiven, because, at its core, 22 Jump Street is driven by Hill and Tatum. And for my money, there’s no funnier comedic duo working today. Here, they execute every type of joke and gag under the sun with maximum success: meta, self-referential jokes, pop culture jokes, lengthy jokes that go in unexpected directions; they pull them all off at a rapid fire pace. A standout includes a running joke of the borderline gay relationship between Hill’s Schmidt and Tatum’s Jenko. At one point they even undergo a faux couples therapy session with serious homosexual overtones. This gag might be the most clever and consistently hilarious bit of shrewd humor employed by Lord and Miller. They’re taking a the buddy cop genre – a genre permeated with mild gay undertones – and bringing those unspoken suggestions to the forefront in a movie largely marketed to the type of crowd that might not particularly comfortable with seeing their heroes involved in a quasi-homosexual relationship. A brilliant touch by Lord and Miller.
Even the plot is an exercise in genre convention. As Captain Dickson and Chief Hardy reiterate over and over again, it’s just like last time, except in college. So yes, as you may have gathered by now, the story is pretty inconsequential and is simply a vehicle for Lord and Miller’s stars to riff on themselves, the movie itself and all the genre tropes it employs. That said, there are a handful of exciting twists and narrative sequences, all of which are in some way tied to a cop movie cliché.
Like Lord and Miller’s previous work, 22 Jump Street flips multiple genres on their heads and revels in their banality while keeping the laughs flowing at a quick pace. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum display a chemistry rarely seen in modern comedies. They are often able to turn even mediocre gags (their initial meeting with the twins across the hall comes to mind) into something special with their natural timing and wit. A great success for all involved; and if the uproarious end credits are to be believed, there may be more where that came from.
Dustin is currently studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He loves movies, music, basketball, and beer. Follow him on Twitter @Dustin_W317.