22 Jump Street Action

Hard-Working, Hard-Partying Film Review: 22 Jump Street

June 13, 2014Ben MK

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The self-aware sequel to the remake of the TV show...

By Ben Mk

Remaking a classic television show into a feature film can be a tricky business, because for every bonafide hit — like Charlie's Angels — there's a string of forgettable misses — à la Starsky & Hutch and Bewitched. So when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's 21 Jump Street turned out to be a box office smash, it made the follow-up a foregone conclusion. Creating a sequel to said remake, however, is an even dicier proposition, as there's no way to guarantee that lightning will strike twice. But what if the sequel reused the same plot as the original? If it worked for Evil Dead II, it can work for 22 Jump Street.

Almost right off the bat, 22 Jump Street diffuses the ticking time bomb that is the viewer's expectation by addressing the elephant in the room: you know, that sequels are usually worse. The logical conclusion: let's just do the exact same thing we did last time and everyone will be happy. It's a huge wink and a nod to the audience that sets the tone for the entire film — from the "Previously on 21 Jump Street" montage that kicks things off to the endlessly hilarious end credits sequence that jokingly foreshadows the homogeneity of the next dozen or so sequels, not to mention videogame, animated series and toy tie-ins.

As the film opens, officers Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are basking in the honeymoon phase of their partnership, practicing stylish ways to shoot the bad guys while daydreaming about the best way to go about serving and protecting the citizens of Metropolitan City. But it's not long before they're called into action to do what they do best — or at least, what they've done before. With a swanky new HQ at 22 Jump Street — conveniently situated directly across from their old base of operations — Schmidt and Jenko are once again sent to investigate a nefarious crime in the land of academia. This time, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) has them posing as college students, and their mission is to infiltrate the halls of MC State, to root out the perp who's been supplying a dangerous new drug called "WhyPhy" (Work hard yes, Play hard yes) to the student population. But to crack the case, they'll need more than just a solid lead, they'll need to overcome the bumps and hurdles in their evolving partnership.

If reading that made you feel like you just stumbled into a plot synopsis for the first film, you're not far off. The broad strokes of the story are virtually identical this second time around, which is all part and parcel of the running joke that screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman have built the sequel (and its charm) on. But that doesn't mean that they haven't put a fresh coat of paint on the familiar routine to keep things interesting.

As seems to be the trend with comedies these days, there's a token amount of bromance added to the mix. Here, it's injected via a budding friendship between Jenko and a college athlete nicknamed Zook (Wyatt Russell) that throws a football-sized wrench into the increasingly fragile Schmidt-Jenko dynamic (a full-fledged bromance in its own right that's explored in comic detail throughout the course of the story). But it isn't the only source of friction the sequel's storyline has on tap. Likewise, Schmidt becomes involved with an art major named Maya (Amber Stevens) who has an obnoxious roommate named Mercedes (Jillian Bell). And not only does his romantic situation threaten to wreak havoc on one of his most tenuous relationships, it leads to a couple of the most hilarious scenes of the movie.

Otherwise, returning directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are content with cranking out the same schtick they did during their first stint with the Jump Street program — which sees Schmidt and Jenko desperately trying to look the part of college-aged students, even though it's regularly pointed out that they "look about 50" — albeit with a few twists thrown in for good measure. Take the pair's high school undercover experience, for example, which cast Schmidt as the popular one and Jenko as the outcast. In a direct reversal of fortune, their college undercover experience plays out with Jenko's popularity soaring, thanks to his natural athleticism, while Schmidt is the one left on the sidelines. But in general, the story replicates the feel of the original — including another instance where the pair trip out on the very drug they're investigating, this time while they're trying to surveil some potential suspects — with equally hilarious results, proving that the chemistry between Hill and Tatum has yet to fizzle.

The Bottom Line

Being a remake is tough enough, but being a sequel to a remake? Well, that's just plain awkward. The filmmakers behind 22 Jump Street dispel the awkwardness in the best way possible, by putting it front and center and turning it into the movie's biggest joke. And it works because they're able to get the audience laughing right along with them. As for Hill and Tatum, the sequel solidifies their status as a formidable comic duo, while Lord and Miller demonstrate that they really do have the Midas touch. Because even though the movie is essentially recycled material, it's still ten times funnier than anything else playing at your local multiplex. [★★★½]

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