“They’re not 21 anymore,” brags one tagline for 22 Jump Street, and that self-aware groaner is a good indication of much of the comedy that fuels the proceedings in this bigger-but-not-better sequel. Returning directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, along with returning writer Michael Bacall (credited alongside Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman this time around), clearly understand the inevitable triteness of most follow-ups and, in a savvy move that still isn’t a complete slam-dunk, make that part of the joke.
What real reason was there to catch up with Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) after they successfully busted the high school drug ring they were sent undercover to infiltrate in 21 Jump Street? Outside of box office receipts, perhaps the simple answer is just that there were more laughs to be had. This sequel isn’t particularly interested in deepening the bond between our protagonists or completely revamping the feel of the franchise – whenever it takes a new turn, that shift is packaged with enough sly winks to make one question whether anything is meant to be taken seriously at all.
What 22 Jump Street does offer is hilarity almost on par with the first installment. It plays fast and loose with its laughs, employing a rapid-fire delivery style but only drawing a few jokes out to any sizable length, and Lord and Miller’s feature-length meta-mockery of the Hollywood sequel machine is almost a sturdy replacement for 21 Jump Street‘s charming novelty. Almost.
Sending Schmidt and Jenko to college, as was promised in the last scene of the first film, is a sufficiently enjoyable conceit to power 22 Jump Street through at least its first hour. In search of the dealer of a drug called WHYPHY (Work Hard Yes, Play Hard Yes), Schmidt infiltrates the artisan crowd and befriends the lovely Maya (Amber Stevens); meanwhile, Jenko joins the football team and explores Greek life.
For a while, it works. Bacall, Uziel and Rothman’s treatment of college life rings true, and the zany energy with which Lord and Miller direct the proceedings supplies a giddy jolt (the swaggering soundtrack, which features party tracks from Wallpaper, Wiz Khalifa and Diplo, among many others, helps in that department). 22 Jump Street feels bigger in pretty much every way than its predecessor – thematically, emotionally, narratively and definitely visually – especially once Schmidt and Jenko head south for a raucous, action-packed spring break filled with gun battles, bikini bodies and one hilariously uncomfortable fistfight.
But that beefed-up scope sometimes works to the film’s detriment. It lets viewers peek under the hood to find the same basic parts just working much harder, and looking more than a little threadbare as a result. Just because everyone involved freely cops to dabbling in the same clichés that pockmark most Hollywood sequels, that doesn’t make those clichés any less irksome.
22 Jump Street doesn’t mess with the formula that worked so well last time around, and though it sags more noticeably, fans could do worse than a sequel that predicts its own shortcomings and ramps up everything else to compensate. The chemistry between Hill and Tatum is as winsome as ever, and Ice Cube’s increased presence is a definite plus. New supporting players like Workaholics‘ Jillian Bell and Wyatt Russell also make up for the absence of Brie Larson and (mostly) Dave Franco. And as an action movie, 22 Jump Street packs a surprisingly formidable punch. Though it effectively neutralizes talk of any further adventures for Schmidt and Jenko, this sequel has energy to spare, and it’s committed enough to its own dumb logic that you’ll find yourself laughing along, even with the understanding that it will be for the last time.