By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Nick Offerman, Amber Stevens, The Lucas Brothers, and Ice Cube
The line between meta and storytelling has never been walked as fine as it is in directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s sequel 22 Jump Street. How you approach the way you speak to your audience can tell the story of whether they are going to stay with your film or not. But to say that 22 Jump Street does it and does it in an extremely entertaining fashion would be the understatement to end all understatements. In the movie’s opening moments, there is a ‘Previously on’ segment that relives all of the story points of its predecessor. Almost like it was an episode of television that its audience has just come back to after a week of waiting. There are character proclamations that each sequel has to be bigger and better than the previous entry. Well, good job Lord and Miller. You just called out how I feel about 22 Jump Street.
Once all the prep work is done, 22 Jump Street goes right into its own plot. This time, Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) have to trace a designer drug to its source. What’s that, you say this was the plot of 21 Jump Street as well? Lord and Miller know this too, and it was extremely fun being in their hands knowing that they were hitting the same beats as last time but in different ways. Ok, while the plot is almost the same, the setting (eventually) isn’t, as Jenko and Schmidt are once again sent undercover, but this time in college. This becomes the source of some hilarious moments, like when Jenko proclaims himself ‘proud to be the first person of his family to pretend to go to college.’ Lord and Miller play with this scenario a lot, and it is funny to see Jenko and Schmidt realize that college life is the exact opposite of high school life. Even if they are doing it while undercover.
What IS missing this time is the hilarious role reversal that Jenko and Schmidt ended up having to do last time, which was actually the source of some pretty good character development. This time, Jenko (who had to play geek last time) is always the popular jock and Schmidt (who had to play sheik last time) is always the dork. It was an element I missed but not completely, as Miller and Lord have a few tricks up their sleeve to make up for it, including the hilarious additions of twins who are half Chinese and half black.
It’s safe to say that Tatum has never looked more comfortable than when he plays the role of Jenko. While many people (me included) doubted his ability to do comedy last time, he came out and proved them all wrong. He is just as good here, and it is uncanny how precise his comic timing is. His bro-mance with head of a coveted fraternity named Zook (Russell) makes for some of the best moments of the movie. Hill is once again great as Schmidt. Though I would be lying if I didn’t say I missed his love interest from 21 Jump Street Brie Larson a lot. His character could have used her. Ice Cube returns as Captain Dickson, and makes it the second time I found him funny onscreen.
The movie has a complete naturalistic feel, though there are times when its comedy borders on the absurd. Lord and Miller seem to realize this as well, however, because as soon as we start feeling some overload, Tatum and Hill save the film with their onscreen presence. 22 Jump Street, like its predecessor, spends its entire final fifteen minutes or so in full on action mode, almost devoid of laughs. Obviously having more money at their disposal, Miller and Lord make it work, and it’s obvious that they are trying their damnedest to bring back the buddy cop/action part of the genre they grew up with.
At 111 minutes, 22 Jump Street feels a bit too long, and overall I would say the comedy didn’t have as much bite as last time. But in looking at comedy sequels like Anchorman 2, and most obviously Hangover 2, I think the movie flies the highest. Because unlike Hangover 2, I found myself laughing at the same exact situations I was laughing at last time without even realizing it. 22 Jump Street’s writers, directors, and stars know what you are expecting. Your enjoyment of their film will depend solely on your ability to leave those expectations at ‘Puerto Mexico’s’ Spring Break, and just have fun. If this is just another in a long line of Jenko and Schmidt’s adventures, count me as waiting with excitement for next week’s episode.