The cinematic 21 Jump Street played for laughs what the original television series played straight: that actors well past the age where they could play high schoolers. 21 Jump Street the film was an unexpected hit, both commercially and critically, and a sequel was all but guaranteed. And like clockwork 22 Jump Street is in theatres and is a worthy, if much more uneven, sequel.
Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) return as the lackluster cops who specialize in the infiltration of young people. Working as undercover cops at a high school in the original, they’re tasked with taking down a drug ring from a new destination: college. Going undercover at the local state school, the duo are back for a quasi-meta look at the nature of action sequels doubling as an action comedy. There’s a new drug on campus, of course, and it’s up to the duo to find out where it’s coming from. Along the way Schmidt meets a girl (Amber Stevens), Jenko finds a new friend (Wyatt Russell) and the nature of their friendship (and working relationship) changes along the way.
And while it doesn’t match the original … it’s a solid, if flawed, film that perhaps finishes the franchise based on its finale.
Tatum and Hill step into roles they could do in their sleep but there’s a profound chemistry here. It was unexpected in the first film but it wasn’t a fluke. These are two actors who are genuinely comfortable with one another and work together well. Tatum should do comedy more; he does the comic lifting in this one to the point where it’s odd when Hill has a comedic moment of his own. The film’s funniest scene revolves around him egging on Hill and Ice Cube; it’s genuinely hilarious and all the more impressive because it’s still unexpected from someone like Tatum.
The film is shockingly funny, much like the first film, and manages to find a groove of about 80 brilliantly manic minutes. The problem is that the film runs roughly two hours, leaving gigantic swathes to cut from. The film has huge portions dedicated to making inside jokes about the nature of sequels, et al, and after a while it starts to feel like a sizzle reel (with footage from the film that was cut out of the final theatrical release) as opposed to being a part of the film proper. It gets annoying after a while, the film always making these fourth wall references, when a handful would’ve been clever. This is clearly a film that’s trying to be self aware at all times … as opposed to a couple. It’s overkill and gets old quick. It’s a gag that works much better on paper than it does on film.
It obscures some of the better gags and this is a film where it seems everyone is trying to steal the film at all times. Stand up comedians, and stars of animated series The Lucas Bros. Moving Company, Kenny and Keith Lucas have a tremendous turn as the Yang twins (their neighbors in the dorms). Jillian Bell gets some of the film’s best lines as the roommate of Schmidt’s girlfriend, forced to listen to them at various points (and the only one pointing out who much older Schmidt is than what he should be). The real surprise, though, is Ice Cube.
Ice Cube goes from just hitting all the right notes as the hard-ass captain (but not adding much beyond the cliches) to having some genuinely terrific moments. He’s given more to do this time around, of course, but more importantly he’s given the ability to react to the hijinks in a more meaningful way that merely screaming. His reactions in a certain scenario, with Channing Tatum goading him on, are worth their weight in gold. He’s much more important to this film than just being an a token authority figure, which was a necessity in the first film, and he manages to make his parts meaningful.
With a handful of surprise cameos, as well, there’s enough new about the film to overlook that it basically duplicates the first film (but in a new setting). The film points this out multiple times, of course, to prop up its sort of quasi-meta look at the film. It’s interesting that they have no problem pointing out that they’re duplicating huge swathes of the first film, if only in spirit, and you don’t need to have watched the first to be able to step into this one. There’s a handy opening credits sequence walking us through the first film, for those who missed it, and there are enough reminders that they’ve already done this to make the point clear.
Ultimately that becomes part of the problem. We know this is a sequel and don’t need to be told it with a sledgehammer at all times. The film tries to be too cutesy in this regard and it leads to large chunks where it throws the entire film off. There’s a brilliant 90 minute comedy waiting to be trimmed from this above average, two hour sequel.
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, based on a story by Michael Bacall & Jonah Hill
Notable Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell