If you had to find a particular fault with 22 Jump Street, and it’s a really picky one, it’s that it simply can’t resist a joke. There’s barely an opportunity for a gag that’s passed up here, and if that’s at the expense of a little bit of story, or pushing the fourth wall just a little further, then so be it. For as with its predecessor, 22 Jump Street is a Hollywood comedy with the emphasis on the laughs and some memorable characters, and it’s not keen to let too much else get in the way.
On the significant upside? 22 Jump Street delivers an awful lot of those laughs. Even more, perhaps, than last time.
Picking up from where things were left at the end of 21 Jump Street courtesy of a handy recap that in itself gets the audience in on the fun from the start, we’re quickly reintroduced to Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as undercover cops Schmidt and Jenko. They still look too old for this shit (there are moments where you see the film resisting the temptation to segue into an unofficial Lethal Weapon sequel), and as promised, the plan this time is to send the pair to college.
Not before we get a very, very funny opening blast though, that firmly establishes the rules of this particular sequel, and lays out pretty much what you’re going to get for the next two hours. Brilliantly so, in fact. It’s the same as last time, we’re told. It’s just going to be a lot more expensive. There’s money in the budget for more gadgets and stuff, and that’s money that the film proceeds to spend.
Hence, the base of operations has moved across the street to the bigger 22 Jump Street (although we spend very little time there), and this time, there’s yet another drug in circulation that the usually-hapless central duo have to stop.
So Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay duly throws Schmidt and Jenko back into college, mixing in returning faces and new characters, a good number of whom are fleshed out more than you might expect. The film then undertakes a delicious drive-by of genre cliches, pulling the rug on them whenever it can, as it sends Schmidt and Jenko down slightly different paths.
Granted, it leaves gaps as it races between its comedy moments, not least in the actual plot, which isn’t the first thing anyone seems to care too much about here. There is a ramification to this: there’s actually quite a lot packed in here, pushing the film close to a two hour running time. It’s in the moments where narrative takes precedence that you do begin to feel the length of the film.
Yet so relentless is the entertainment, and so densely packed are the laughs (you’re never more than five minutes away from the next one), that the running time is easy to overlook. There’s a surprising range of comedy here too, with sight gags, one liners, physical humour and long-lead set-ups all mixed together. Then there are enough film nods to warrant a second viewing immediately, right down to a Kubrick reference that pretty much makes you gag on the spot.
In fact, there’s a real sense of people working hard for every laugh, which accounts for the high hit rate. Adam Sandler? Someone needs to buy you a ticket so you can see how this sort of thing should be done.
The film’s highlight? That’d be Ice Cube. Promoted from his brief appearance in 21 Jump Street to a more prominent role this time, his Captain Dickson dominates every scene he’s let near – no matter how little he may be physically doing in it. Whether he’s smashing things up, texting, glaring, or barking out dialogue with an anger and rage that’s a significant upgrade even on his scene-stealing work in the first film, Cube gives the best comedy performance of his career.
As does Jonah Hill. With Channing Tatum taking on slightly more of a straight man role again (albeit given room for an abundance of digs at himself which he happily takes advantage of, and one wonderful scene that pretty much brings the house down), 22 Jump Street is surely Jonah Hill’s graduation to the A-list of comedy talent. His physical skills, his pitch perfect delivery of a one liner, and his sheer likeability are exquisitely showcased here. Tatum too is strong, and the partnership at the heart of 22 Jump Street is one we’re keen to see again.
Whether we get a 23 Jump Street remains to be seen though, not least because directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller pretty much set fire to the future of the series in a glorious end credits sequence (top tip: don’t leave your seat until the very end). They gleefully burn bridges in a manner that we’re not going to spoil here, yet in a way that can’t help but remind you of Gremlins 2. Joe Dante would surely approve.
But if we don’t get another Jump Street movie, then here, at least, is something impressive, very funny, and that rarest of things: a comedy sequel that’s up to the standards of the film before, if not just a little better. It’s the funniest film since The LEGO Movie, and surely has established – if there was any remaining doubt – directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as the finest purveyors of mainstream comedy in the Hollywood system. Their editing skills alone are worthy of applause, but the sheer number of genuine laughs they’ve mined across their films gives them a batting average that’s hard to beat right now.
22 Jump Street may be a little too long, and it’s not going to convert those who didn’t really warm to its predecessor. But for its absolute commitment to comedy, its huge laugh count, and for the best end credits sequence in recent memory, it registers as this year’s live action comedy to beat. We suspect nobody will.
Just don’t let anybody spoil its surprises in advance for you…
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