Let’s be honest; no one expected the 2012 film version of 21 Jump Street to do well. It was probably the biggest surprise of that summer in terms of exceeding expectations, and packed a few nice twists, even for those familiar with its television roots. Instead of falling into the trap of a-typical sequel shortcomings, 22 Jump Street succeeds exactly where its predecessor did, by poking fun at the idea it even exists in the first place.
At the end of 21 Jump Street, Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) are informed by their esteemed Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) that they’ll be heading to college for their next assignment. As 22 Jump Street opens, that’s exactly where they boys are, but not in the way they or we expect. Instead of infiltrating the campus life of a nearby institution, they sit watching lectures through an online college course, looking for coded message, leading them to their next assignment.
After a failed attempt at capturing their main target, the Chief of Police needs to break the news to our heroes that they just are not doing well. The higher-ups want to see the same outcome and circumstances that worked so well when the two protagonists went undercover in high school. So, they are sent to the Captain Dickson unit’s new office across the street at 22 Jump Street and are put to work by truly going undercover in a college setting, all to hunt down the supplier of a new substance hitting the campus; “WHYPHY.”
Forcing a story through a crack in the fourth wall and poking fun at itself is nothing new, especially in a world of new age reworkings of classic ‘80s and ‘90s cheese-ball properties. Yet, writer Michael Bacall and directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord just seem to have a better handle on the idea than others. It would have been easy to simply kick off the film by literally picking up with Schmidt and Jenko at the exact moment the last film ended, or with them already starting their college assignment. By taking the long way around to get the story on its rails, it opens up ample opportunity for the film to make fun of itself and the idea of sequels in general, without giving itself any room to fail.
Pointing out the classic foibles of the sequel structure so many people have become familiar with can feel like a get out of jail free card, as if the directors are secretly screaming, “Hey guys, we know how bad these things can be, so don’t be mad at us if it falls flat on its face.” Instead, that self-deprecating humor enhances the comedy aspect of 22 Jump Street, keeping it grounded from an egocentric sense of superiority.
All of that said, 22 Jump Street is not a minute-to-minute laugh riot that causes small children to drown in a river made up from the audience’s tears of giggles. The opening, along with much of the major plot points, can be tired and old. Luckily, there are moments within the entire piece that shine. Whether it’s Jonah Hill’s walk of shame face, Ice Cube’s assault on a brunch buffet, or the out of this world end credit sequence, 22 Jump Street hits so many high notes that you still find yourself coming down from the euphoria during in the interim.
Much like the first film, there is a lot going on beyond penned jokes within a frame. You don’t have to lean forward and focus your attention ferociously at the screen to pick up on everything, but there are swift reactions, quickly delivered quips, and even a room full of blinking lights that add to the brevity of every scene.
Then again, there is a plethora of cameos to tickle the funny bone that also add to the fun. Sure, some can be considered subtle; such as the appearance of Archer himself, H. Jon Benjamin (whose face might be the first thing many people recognize). While others are out in full force, like Patton Oswalt’s appearance as a somewhat freethinking professor near the beginning of the film. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil all the fun for you, but 21 Jump Street had a handful of smaller roles that really beefed up the comedy, and 22 Jump Street made sure to keep the party going.
These two films at their heart are about the relationship between the protagonists; their actions carry the film and their story breathes life into it. But in the end, this is a comedy, and the world around Schmidt and Jenko is just as important toward making a quality product, as its two misguided leading men. The situations encased in this story may be outrageous, but at its core, 22 Jump Street continues the story arc of two people from opposite lifestyles, fighting through the trials and tribulations of society’s impact on how they interact. You just can’t do that without a vibrant and abrasive culture thriving around them.
However, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, because this is a movie that is meant to make you laugh, and it does. I’m not going to come out and say this is the best sequel in the past xx years, but generally when people think of sequels, the feeling is they never live up to the original, or they are too much like the original (The Hangover: Part II anyone? Which I actually think got a bum rap). Yes, 22 Jump Street is a lot like the first film, and everyone involved knew that and didn’t stop short of pointing it out, again and again within the film; but as a sequel, and a continuation of a film that people didn’t think would be worth a dime in the first place, 22 Jump Street is a smashing success.