Only Phil Lord and Christopher Miller could pull off a smart comedy like 22 Jump Street that cleverly uses itself to make a statement about sequels. That’s because in their work, the subversive filmmakers regularly mock movie archetypes through narrative, dialogue, and jokes designed to deliver a single point. And in 22 Jump Street that point is that sequels suck when they follow a formula. Great ones take risks and try new things, just like it does.
Initially, the film is very similar to its predecessor 21 Jump Street. Police officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) botch a sting operation and get reprimanded by their boss (Nick Offerman). Afterward, these partners are sent back to the undercover Jump Street precinct, where they’re tasked with finding the source of a designer drug on a local college campus. Once again, they infiltrate separate social circles and become alienated from one another without making progress. However Schmidt and Jenko’s investigation takes off, once they shake off expectations and start thinking outside the box.
At first, 22 Jump Street isn’t very funny because it repeats several gags from the prior film. There’s a lot of annoying winking at you too when both Offerman’s Deputy Chief Hardy and Ice Cube’s Captain Dickinson lecture Schmidt and Jenko on sticking with what worked last time. All of this painful self-aware humor is worth it though, since it helps Schmidt and Jenko realize they need to change tactics. After the movie reaches this point, it’s like a switch is flipped, because the rest of the picture is fast-paced and hilarious.
There are small additions in 22 Jump Street that generate chuckles like Jenko’s newfound love of parkour and his friendship with the eerily similar quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell). Although there are two major changes Lord and Miller make to yield significant snickers. First, Ice Cube has a much larger role, which allows him to flex his comedic chops. In one amazing scene, he gets angry and throws an outrageous adult tantrum that will leave you in tears. Second, Jillian Bell from Workaholics shows up as brutally sarcastic college student named Mercedes who comically needles Schmidt for looking old.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have fantastic chemistry again as the mismatched cops Schmidt and Jenko. Their partnership is definitely bromantic, but is also entertaining because it feels like a real romantic relationship. When they tensely talk about pursuing an “open investigation” and accidentally get roped into partner counseling you can’t help laughing at how authentic their emotions are. In this regard, there’s a lot of homoerotic humor in the film, but Lord and Miller balance it out in an excellent scene where Jenko stands up for gay rights.
The action sequences in 22 Jump Street are exciting and well-shot with lots of amusing explosions that are humorously excessive. Plus both Schmidt and Jenko get their own cool hand-to-hand fights, and they’re involved in several great chases. A particularly funny pursuit involves the pair accidentally causing destruction on campus, while they’re trying to minimize hits to their department’s budget.
Based on the unexpected smarts of 21 Jump Street, it seemed unlikely that Lord and Miller could make a follow up with the same impressive wit. That’s why it’s pleasantly surprising that they’ve crafted another sharp flick, that’s also a brilliant statement about defying sequel conventions. If this is the last Jump Street movie, it’s nice these guys went out on a positive note. Although if this isn’t Schmidt and Jenko’s final outing, it should be entertaining to see what Lord and Miller cook up next.