by Philip Price
With sequels these days there has come a feeling of such necessity that we have therefore come to experience many sequels complacent with simply re-hashing the original. “22 Jump Street” is aware of this and especially in the genre of comedy. Most comedies, be it “The Hangover,” “Rush Hour” or “The Nutty Professor,” are typically made with no greater ambition than making people laugh and maybe gaining a following once they hit home video, but I can't imagine any of them expected box office success resulting in a second chapter. This was apparent in each of the sequels to the aforementioned comedies, but the second chapter in this Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill collaboration not only knows it is a college movie that pays homage to the kind of National Lampoon mainstays (as well as a barrage of other comedic references), but a sequel that subverts sequels. They realize the expectation that everything is supposed to be bigger, more expensive looking, and louder which is why they choose to open this one with a big, fast action sequence. While the heart of the film still deals with the on-going relationship between Hill's Schmidt and Tatum's Jenko the real story of the film is not the one in which these two repeat the same undercover work as last time, but instead how the film goes about commentating on the way studios operate these days and what happens when they run into road blocks and disagreements. In order to set-up the last act of the film our boys are confronted with the issue of having no money left in their police budget, which is to say they've spent it all on that opening chase sequence, upgraded sets and a bigger scope. Lucky for us the third act also helps the film break from the mold of the first film in which it was so eager to repeat so as to not venture outside the safety net of success. Returning directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller understand that everything is funnier the first time around and that the jokes aren't as sharp the second time. They understand audiences think they'll not only be looking for the same things, but wanting them. The truth is, despite the fact audiences think this way, they will leave the theater disappointed if that's what they're given because it wasn't more than they assumed it would be. In responding to these inherent wants and needs Lord and Miller have crafted a film that both meets initial expectations and then bursts through the traditional sequel curse by giving us what we didn't know we wanted until it was served up fresh.
In a piece of perfect execution from the get-go Lord and Miller let us know they are in on the joke by recapping the events of the first film with a "Previously on 21 Jump Street" bit. From there we are dropped into the middle of an investigation as Schmidt aims to infiltrate a gang of drug dealers led by Peter Stormare with a new identity and character he is trying out while Jenko goes along against his will while attempting an accent that fails and lands them in a gun fight. To say the pair fails miserably is a bit of an understatement which brings to the attention of Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) that these guys are only good at one thing. In the wake of the Korean's buying back the church where Captain Dickson's (Ice Cube) undercover operations made their headquarters they had to move things across the street to 22 Jump St. (which justifies the title, naturally, because it was never in reference to the fact it was the second film). As we might expect Dickson walks them through what is basically the same case they solved in the previous installment though this time on a college campus. With Jenko having never been to college and Schmidt adoring the liberal and artistic nature of academic thinking the partners are more than psyched to jump at the opportunity to do as they please in this atmosphere. They are in search of a drug called "WHY-PHY" (Work Hard? Yes. Play Hard? Yes.), but before they get too far in their investigation they start to encounter more issues with their partnership. Whereas last time the film explored the ever-changing cultural trends that high school students go through this time we see the college experience work both for and against our dynamic duo. Schmidt gets an in with the artsy crowd, especially Maya (Amber Stevens) who he shares more than a fling with while Jenko has a meet Q-tip with Zook (Wyatt Russell). These two very different crowds lead Schmidt and Jenko to once again agree to an “open investigation,” in order to “investigate” other people. This is the only aspect that repeats too much of the same core dilemmas of the first film while taking up too much screen time. We'd rather just see the partners put aside their differences (as we know they will eventually) to divide and conquer as the elite cops we know they could be.
To make it clear, I really did enjoy myself in “22 Jump Street.” Let it not be thought that I didn't. The film has its issues yet I didn't necessarily want it to end and I know the more I watch it the more I will gain from it and the more I will like it. It is almost inevitable for me to not enjoy a comedy the more familiar I become and am allowed to catch things I didn't in my first pass, but “21 Jump Street” was the rare comedy that made a real impact on its initial viewing. Did “22 Jump Street” not leave as strong an impact? No, not necessarily but there are some great moments here. Whether it is little details like the twin roommates that live across the hall from Schmidt and Jenko or the outlandish scenes where Tatum displays his knack for playing the goofball idiot full tilt. It is in these spaces where this sequel re-affirms the hilarity and chemistry of its leading characters, but more than anything else it is a strong supporting cast (and two individual stand-outs) that keep the pacing and energy afloat under what could have been a more tightly structured and narrowly focused narrative. When speaking of these two standouts I'm referring to both Ice Cube and Jillian Bell. As Captain Dickson Ice Cube or O'Shea Jackson is such a hidden gem that we forget how much we love him and how much of an asset he is to this world until he shows up to flippantly dismiss our leads with profanity-laced verbal assaults. Cube has more to do this time around and the script involves him in some seriously hilarious circumstances while not over-indulging in the characters limited range from which he can create his ill-tempered humor. Where sequels often try to over-compensate is in their addition of new characters or giving a supporting character from the first that caught on with audiences a bigger role, but “22 Jump Street” does neither. They keep Dickson in check while both Maya and Zook are kept to purely supporting structures that help up the tension build between our leads furthering that plot strand while also contributing largely to the investigation Schmidt and Jenko are conducting. On the outskirts of it all is Bell's Mercedes who is an offbeat truth-teller that happens to be Maya's roommate. She wears funny t-shirts and unloads old people jokes with rapid fire on Schmidt, but if it weren't for Bell's stone-cold delivery and icy stare her character would have been little more than an afterthought.
Even as I'm a few days removed from seeing the film I've begun to contemplate if I enjoyed it more than I'm willing to admit. I already want to see it again because I know there are numerous jokes I didn't catch the first time around and likely more references buried within the deep love for movies and comedy this sequel clearly displays. I guess that is why I was both entranced and slightly disconnected with the sequel. I really do adore the first for its re-watchability factor and because of that have watched it countless times and so I went into this with a bit of apprehension so as not to get overly excited and be disappointed while trying not to set the bar too low. I knew to expect good things from Lord and Miller, but it also was clear the movie was put together in somewhat of a rush and that unfortunately breaks through at points; a truth I can't avoid. Tatum has two other films that were set to open this year while providing a voice in another and Hill came right off ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ into this (and provides a voice in the opposing picture this past weekend) while also receiving a story credit. The script has five credited writers and the directors also released “The LEGO Movie” in February. It is hard to fathom where any of the creative team found time to squeeze this sequel into their calendars, but in somehow doing so they produced a self-aware piece that somehow still manages to tread too much of the same ground. I realize it is somewhat contradictory to laugh at the film and appreciate it because it knows what it is and it knows that we know what it is and satirizes that idea while also criticizing the elements that are purposefully re-hashing the relationship dynamics from the first, but despite the point of the film playing up the fact it's a sequel we still expect the characters to grow and if anything Hill's Schmidt has yet to learn how to be a man despite his higher IQ. Tatum is the star here and the fact his character is more likable, more willing to explore and try new things only makes him that much more appealing while Schmidt drags the picture down in much of the first half by being a cry baby. As I mentioned earlier, it is without spoiling anything to know that they will reconcile their differences and in this Schmidt is redeemed. I can only hope they don't explore this same relationship issue again if they decide to go ahead with any of the twenty or so sequels pitched in the end credits.