Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
I find it difficult to remember a time that I was as gobsmacked by a comedy as I was by 21 Jump Street. It represented all of the things no one wanted in a film: a reboot of an ’80s television show, another buddy cop send-up, and Channing Tatum doing comedy. So what a surprise it was when the film turned out to be such a pleasant surprise — a big studio comedy so blissfully self-aware and meta, but also downright funny. It took all the worries I had about reboots, television adaptations, and Tatums, and confronted them with such an subversive kick in the pants, becoming the standout comedy of 2012. A surprising marvel risen out of such bottom barrel expectations. But now the follow-up, 22 Jump Street, has a whole new set of worries to address, and the film wastes no time in bringing that same self-deprecating hilarity to the subject of sequels. And it suceeds… for the most part.
In its own existential way, 22 Jump Street is really a sequel about sequels. It unhooks all the underpinnings of second films and mocks the big studio cynicism that floats over any big-budget follow-up to a successful property, reconfiguring the notion into a farcical blend of self-mockery. As Nick Offerman’s police chief character lays out in thick slabs of meta exposition, the Jump Street reboot was a surprise success, so the department now has double the budget for the follow-up program that sees Detectives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) infiltrating a college campus to “do the same thing” they did before… except it probably won’t be as successful and people won’t like it as much. Get it? How can you not?
That thread of meta humor is woven through the entire film, and 22 Jump Street doesn’t feel as much as a follow-up to the first Jump Street film but a full-on parody of it. And while calling something a parody of itself is usually a pejorative remark, here it’s the clear intention. The film is several grades sillier than its predecessor, and is nothing short of a live-action cartoon. Really, it’s just as effervescent and spastic as writer/directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller‘s last feature, The Lego Movie. 22 Jump Street isn’t just on the nose, it is the nose. And if that sort of humor rankles you, there won’t be much for you to enjoy in 22 Jump Street. But for those of us with a high tolerance for the ridiculous — for instance, an early suspect in the drug case literally has a tattoo of a red herring — then there’s a lot to like in this sequel.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There’s a lovely lack of logic coursing through the film, and its frequently and riotously funny. Tatum is transitioning into quite the physical comedian, and Hill’s vulnerable Schmidt adds some nice emotional beats to a film that’s wildly unconcerned with anything approaching reality. Ice Cube’s Capt. Dickson also gets way more to do this time around, giving the film some of its biggest laughs. The whole thing is infused with such unbridled creative energy, thanks to Lord and Miller, but the film also gets lost in its own narrative aspirations.
So many of the narrative beats are the same as those in 21, but inverted and packaged with a supplementary wink and nod at this mimicry. Oddly, the film feels simultaneously ambitious and rote all at the same time. Here’s a film trying its best to subvert the notion of sequels, but falls right into the trap it spends so much time lampooning. Much of the time watching the film is spent waiting for the other boot to drop, but it never really does. The set-up and the punchline of the film’s central gag is the same: we did it same thing again. Isn’t that funny? Well, yeah, sure, but only partially, because we already saw it last time.
It’s hard to criticize 22 Jump Street for not quite reaching its narrative ambitions when it’s so often side-splitingly funny despite them. Yeah, its meta humor doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, but when it does, it’s hilarious. The sequel is so remarkably odd and interesting with its approach to crafting a follow-up that we’re excited to see what comes next from the series. I hear there’s a Laotian mega-church being built right across the way at 23 Jump Street.