Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Premise: A sequel to the 2012 film. Undercover police officers Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) enroll as college students to expose a drug ring.
What Works: The 2012 comedy film 21 Jump Street was a feature length parody of the dramatic 1980s television series. That movie was a pleasant surprise, revealing Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum to be an enjoyable comedic duo and managing to have some fun at the expense of the undercover cop genre. In a similar way, the sequel finds comic success, at least in the first half hour and again in the last ten minutes, by sending up Hollywood sequels. The characters make reference to continuing the “Jump Street” reboot, which is of course the filmmakers going meta and referring to the movie itself, and there are a few clever (and some not so clever but amusing) in-jokes playing on Hollywood, the preceding film, and on the careers of stars Hill and Tatum. The last ten minutes of 22 Jump Street is arguably the best part of the movie; after the story has completed, the film features a compressed preview of another decade worth of Jump Street sequels, with each progressively more absurd. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum continue to be an effective comic team but 22 Jump Street introduces two new characters: Amber Stevens as Maya, an art student that Jonah Hill’s character falls for, and Jillian Bell as a suspicious roommate. Amber Stevens holds her own in the movie and makes a strong impression even if the filmmakers don’t give her much to work with but it is Jillian Bell who lands many of 22 Jump Street’s funniest moments. Bell’s comic delivery is spot on and this performance makes her an actress to watch.
What Doesn’t: After the filmmakers get through with their initial ribbing of Hollywood, 22 Jump Street slips back into the story pattern established in the first movie in which the unlikely partners reenter school and attempt to assimilate into the campus culture while investigating a drug ring. The filmmakers acknowledge the fact that they are repeating the same formula and try to play that for laughs but the fact is that 22 Jump Street is the same story warmed over and no amount of self-reflexivity makes up for that laziness. There is a long tradition of sequels presenting the same scenario over and over again; the Rocky films and the Friday the 13th series did this with general success because there was an attempt to do the formula bigger and better each time. 22 Jump Street doesn’t do it better and in fact it is frequently worse than its predecessor. Part of what worked so well about 21 Jump Street was the initial buddying of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s characters. That film set them up as an odd couple with a past that went back to their high school days in which Hill’s character was an outcast and Tatum’s character was high school royalty. The humor of that movie was in the novelty of thirty year old men attempted to pass themselves off as high schoolers and in the reversal of expectation in which Hill and Tatum’s characters exchanged positions in the social hierarchy of the school. 22 Jump Street has none of this. It reintroduces the characters as seen in the end of the first film and over the course of the sequel they don’t grow individually or as a team. The humor of 22 Jump Street is as flat as its character development. Unlike the first movie, which successfully played on the high school experience and on generational differences, the second film does not have any imagination in the way it presents college and the filmmakers run through the clichés of higher education comedies as seen in Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. None of this is very funny and the movie seems to take forever to get to its predictable ending.
Bottom Line: 22 Jump Street frequently feels more like a Saturday Night Live skit lampooning as a Hollywood sequel than an actual motion picture. It begins well and it ends well but the long stretch in between is a marathon of college movie clichés that isn’t worth it.
Episode: #496 (June 22, 2014)