Welcome back to Jump Street, where double the budget means double the payoff – right?
Following in the footsteps of 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return not only to continue their undercover antics, but also self-consciously poke fun at Hollywood’s reboot/remake obsession. The question is, can their previous smash success be replicated? Michael Bacall’s 21 Jump Street screenplay blends humor, action, and a self-aware nature that incorporates satirical storytelling, creating a hybrid genre experience mirroring that of spoof comedies. Such punnery only benefits humor on a level of novelty though, which 21 Jump Street smartly realizes and minimizes.
22 Jump Street invests heavily into the idea of “self-aware” humor, but more than its predecessor, losing some of that initial magic. Had Nick Offerman’s repeat dialogue been the only cheeky acknowledgement to the surprise success of 21 Jump Street, I would have been a happy man, left only to enjoy Tatum and Hill’s special brand of buddy comedy – but such was not the case. Far from it, in fact. 22 Jump Street struggles to suppress an overblown ego, beating viewers over the head with reference after reference to a cheap self-awareness that never lets an otherwise enjoyable college subplot flourish. 22 Jump Street relishes in being a sequel that makes fun of typical Hollywood sequels, but gets tangled in its own meta ambitions – good thing Hill and Tatum refuse to watch their latest endeavor go up in flames.
Picking up exactly where 21 Jump Street left off, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) graduate from high school drug busts to infiltrating fraternities on a college level. With a new drug craze sweeping a local campus, it’s up to our agents to once again locate the suppliers and pinpoint a dealer – but college offers a few more distractions than high school did. While Jenko joins the college’s football program and bros down with other players, Schmidt finds himself hypnotized by an art major named Maya (Amber Stevens), and the two partners start to drift apart. Can our heroes mend their relationship and focus on the task at hand, or will Schmidt and Jenko find their true selves, ultimately losing one another?
Apologies if my introduction made you think I found 22 Jump Street to be a dismissible dud, because there’s true comedic value between stereotypical fraternal laughs and absolutely dynamite chemistry between our lead characters. Hill and Tatum are a forced to be reckoned with on screen, playing off one another’s obvious typecasting for genuine, seamless laughs. There’s a level of comfort between the two, whether it’s reaching up bathing suits or engaging in intense shootouts, where you feel as if these two will do absolutely anything for one another. With banter and wit at a premium, 22 Jump Street succeeds because Channing Tatum is an absolutely perfect bromosapien, and Jonah Hill’s overly feminine playfulness creates a jealous tension like that of an ex lover. C’mon, what’s funnier than Hill and Tatum talking about being in an “open investigation?”
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t shake the overbearing sense that 22 Jump Street is nothing but a gimmick – an inside joke that never evolves into anything substantial. Any plotting seems trivial, as our writers would rather joke about how sequels always get more expensive, blow more things up, and follow a mirroring story. Such references are all well and good, and I laughed heartily as Ice Cube bragged about the $800 shoes his character wears that no one can even see on screen, but there’s a time and place for humor of this nature – and also a limit. A stinging impact is lost once audiences come to expect an emphasis on self-referential quips, and where I was fighting tears during Offerman’s lambasting of generic sequels, Tatum’s expensive high-speed chase only mustered a mere giggle. While making fun of so many other franchises who follow generic formulas, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s Jump Street franchise can’t help but exploit 21 Jump Street‘s biggest strength to the point of redundancy – a disappointing flaw right under their own noses.
Speaking of Lord and Miller, kudos to these two gentlemen for displaying such a diverse array of talents. One minute they’re re-inventing our childhood with a movie like The Lego Movie, and the next they’re delivering raunchy, R-rated comedy, executing car chases and intricate action sequences. While their interpretation of college is oh-so glamorized and Hollywood-ized, basically being every high schooler’s dream of what college will be, such stereotyping fits the world of 22 Jump Street – emphasizing ridiculousness over reality. Action comedies aren’t easy to pull off, but our directorial duo displays an insightful balance while capturing thrilling elements and riotous moments of comedy alike, never letting one genre overshadow the other. Oh, and anyone who can pull off a proper Benny Hill homage is aces in my book, also highlighting their absolute love of cinema. You can’t produce a good product without first appreciating your medium!
Tatum and Hill are the stars here, but they’re surrounded by many talented young performers who rightfully get their due in such a high profile franchise. Jillian Bell, whom you’ll recognize from Workaholics, scores some of the film’s most memorable scenes alongside Jonah Hill, and The Lucas Brothers use their super twin powers to become these insta-classic characters who steal almost every scene they’re in. Less unexpected is Ice Cube’s second magnificent turn as Captain Dickson, Jump Street’s foul-mouthed, angry boss, and the always dastardly Peter Stormare as a criminal named Ghost that Jenko and Schmidt encounter. These two proven veterans bring a sense of balance to 22 Jump Street‘s mainly youthful cast, simply doing what they do best – entertain.
Alas, 22 Jump Street seems a bit inconsequential, but when compared to some of this season’s other blockbusters, you can do worse – much, much worse. Resisting laughter is futile while Jenko and Schmidt struggle to be legitimate law enforcers, because Tatum and Hill refuse to waste any potential for comedy, but a much weaker script this time around becomes too self-aware for its own good. Maybe if 22 Jump Street wasn’t so busy trying to perfect meta humor while simultaneously bashing Hollywood, it would have realized its own imperfections?
Eh, whatever. As far as brainless buddy comedies about even more brainless police officers go, there’s enough squid inking, helmet driving, and helicopter destroying to permit a fun, applaudable summertime watch. Good enough is still good, right?
While 22 Jump Street becomes a little too self-aware for its own good, Tatum and Hill's bromantic chemistry delivers an acceptable amount of laughs for your typical summer blockbuster.