After the breakout critical and financial success of 21 Jump Street two years ago, Chris Miller and Phil Lord flex their comedy muscles for the second time this year (after the spectacular Lego Movie) with 22 Jump Street. Sequels come in all shapes and sizes, and, especially in the comedy genre, generally disappoint more often than not (see Hangover and whatever the hell Dumb and Dumber To is supposed to be). Similar plot premises from original to sequel incite diminishing returns, and this was something that concerned me after seeing trailers of Jump Street’s return. It looked like the same movie but bigger and broader, bad news for most film sequels. However, 22 Jump Street plays with audience expectations expertly, and proves itself a pedigree of all sequelkind that is as self-aware as it is spit-take inducing.
One of the main reasons for the film’s immense comedic success is this self-awareness. The writers not only acknowledge the inherent ridiculousness of the premise, but also the fact that a comedy reboot of a largely unknown ‘80s TV series got a big-budget sequel in the first place. As a result, the film is extremely meta, particularly in the opening 30 minutes, where the expected emotional arc of the entire film is explicitly laid out in a single scene. Frequent references are made to the common belief that a second, more expensive, outing is always worse than the first and Channing Tatum’s non-Jump Street filmography gets a nod. This technique could have backfired, especially if 22 Jump Street had actually ended up being worse than its predecessor, but instead the self-referential part of the script adds another layer to a very funny sequel that undoubtedly surpasses the already great original.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return with equally bromantic chemistry, with Tatum reprising in arguably the most defining role of his career. He does big and dumb like no other. Also, watching Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) terrorize the mild-mannered Schmidt (Hill) is an absolutely gleeful experience. As in the previous film, Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt’s professional partnership becomes pretty obvious subtext for their friendship throughout the film. In the end, their friction ignites and saves the day, while also nicely underscoring the film’s exploration of personal growth and diversity (punctuated hilariously by Schmidt’s racial gaffs around Dickson, and the nice detail of Jenko’s anti-homophobia which he picks up from his ‘useless’ human sexuality course).
The lead three are also well-supported by a solid cast elsewhere, including a great cameo from the villains of the first film and nice walk-on roles for Nick Offerman, Peter Stormare and YouTube star Jimmy Tatro (Archer and Bob’s Burgers fans, keep an eye out for the surprise of H. Jon Benjamin as MC State’s football coach).
Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel deliver a densely-packed comedic escapade without losing coherence of the film’s themes, and though virtually all of its characters are stereotypes, it plays as well-constructed parody rather than conformity to weak writing. Chris Miller and Phil Lord again demonstrate their aptitude as a fourth wall demolition duo, as they direct frantic action while paying particular attention to hilarious cutaways and self-referential gags a plenty. Many of the film’s biggest laughs come from simple splitscreen shots of Tatum doing parkour-parkour while Hill dodders pathetically and believably behind. The film’s ‘big budget’ chase scenes should delight action fans with particularly excellent car chases, while also maintaining the vehicular gag of 22 Jump Street’s self-awareness as a film.
All this excellence in writing, directing and acting is capped off with a genius credits sequence that manages to encapsulate all the film’s best qualities (self-awareness, dumb fun and directorial imagination) and keeps the audience grinning right up until the point they leave the cinema. 22 Jump Street is not only a superb sequel but also one of the funniest movies of recent years and, in conjunction with The Lego Movie, cements Phil Lord and Chris Miller as the comedy film-makers to beat.
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel
Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Run Time: 112 Minutes