Film Review: 22 Jump Street

Why fix what isn't broken? '22 Jump Street' is, for a very specific reason, the exact same movie as its predecessor and for once that isn't a criticism.

If it can be said that there's such a thing as Meta Cinema, then wunderkinds Phil Lord and Chris Miller are two of its indisputable contemporary masters. The four features that the duo have helmed during the course of their still-young careers all radiate a heightened self-awareness that would be deeply irritating if they also weren't so absurdly good-natured…not to mention absurdly funny. Let's not forget that these are the same guys who recently reverse-engineered an extended toy commercial—The Lego Movie, their biggest and best hit to date—into a genuinely great film, one that successfully sells its product while also wittily commenting on the way it's selling that product.

Toys aren't the source material for Lord and Miller's Jump Street franchise, which kicked off with 2012's 21 Jump Street and continues, kind of, in the new 22 Jump Street. Instead, the movies are extrapolations of a late-’80s TV show about youthful-looking undercover cops—played on television by, among others, Johnny Depp and Richard Grieco and in multiplexes by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum—who infiltrate high schools and colleges in their hunt for perps. And even if you've never seen that series or had intentionally blocked it from your mind, the filmmakers aren't about to let you forget those small-screen origins. Like the first movie, 22 Jump Street is packed with specific allusions to the series as well as gags that play on broader TV tropes. Opening with a literal "Previously on" reel recapping the events of its predecessor, the movie goes on to dispatch not-so-top cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) to college, merrily tweaking the structure of episodic television (a prime suspect is revealed to be a red herring before the first-act break) and ripping fresh holes in the already flimsy logic of Jump Street's premise (like any real 18-year-old would actually think that Tatum and Hill were in their age bracket) along the way.

As expected, Lord and Miller also make much comic hay out of the fact that this is a sequel to a surprise blockbuster, a conceit that routinely kicks several loose bricks out of the proverbial fourth wall, without ever fully toppling it over. (Perhaps the best of these wink-wink-nudge-nudge meta-jokes are the characters' boasts that they've got more money to play with this time, which inevitably gives way to complaints that they're spending too much.) In fact, the filmmakers cheekily adopt that old complaint that most "Part 2’s" are just bald-faced repeats of their preceding "Part 1's" as 22 Jump Street's mission statement and primary storyline. No sooner are they back on campus than Schmidt and Jenko once again have to track a dangerous designer drug back to its source, tangling with fellow students, suspicious teachers and their own clashing personalities before kissing and making up just in time to partake in an overblown, overlong finale that emphasizes action over laughs. (This installment's climax may take place on Spring Break rather than at prom, but it still could still stand to lose about 15 minutes.) If it sounds like a movie you've seen before, well…that's the point.

One element that unfortunately doesn't carry over from 21 to 22 is the role-reversal hook that inspired so many belly laughs—as well as a fair amount of (gasp!) emotional resonance—in the first film. There, the central duo's return to high school allowed Schmidt to finally achieve his previously thwarted goal of being Mr. Popularity, while Jenko got in touch with his inner dork, an idea that Tatum snatched up and ran with to hilarious effect. Going back to college, however, doesn't inspire a similar transformation; instead, Jenko remains a lunkhead jock, while Schmidt is back to being the poster child for the uncool.

Thankfully, though, the fact that their character arcs are more straightforward this time around doesn't adversely impact Hill and Tatum's dynamism as a comedy team. If anything, both actors are more confident and playful around each other than they were before, each secure in the knowledge that the other has his back in any given scenario. An extended gag that plays over the closing credits—so make sure to stick around—pokes fun at what future Jump Street sequels might look like, and damned if even the most unlikely of those ideas sounds pretty good if it means more opportunities to watch Tatum and Hill goof around.

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