Release Date: June 6th, 2014 (UK); June 13th, 2014 (US)
Genre: Action; Comedy; Crime
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
As simply a comedy film, 22 Jump Street lands its fair share of guffaws. And this is primarily offspring of the humour genre: from acting upon the comedic strengths of its leading pair to unwaveringly owning up to sequel-dom, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s second trek down Jump Street fulfils many a Mark Kermode six laugh test. Yet, albeit competently amusing and even occasionally side-splitting, the outing ceases to be complete. Though the directors’ panache for funny bellows through, their film isn’t consistently hilarious. Not many are. Necessary then, is another anchor to steady the ship when proceedings aren’t quite as raucous; a sturdy narrative perhaps. Sadly, the one presented to us is rather flimsy when it comes to chapters that aren’t laden with jokes.
The final bell having rung on their undercover high school lives, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) now find themselves caught up in a whole new world: college. Their location is the only difference though, given the partners are once again involved in a narcotics mystery. The new drug is called WHYPHY and has already seen to one student’s untimely demise. Whilst attempting to sideline nostalgic football dreams and romantic engagements, Schmidt and Jenko must also overcome any strains in their own relationship in order to solve the criminal dealings before things get any further out of hand.
Opting for humongous sign-waving as opposed to measly eye-winking, 22 Jump Street isn’t exactly flippant in self-referential deliberation. After an opening montage that takes us through the key scenes of its predecessor — Previously, on 21 Jump Street… — we soon find ourselves camped alongside Schmidt and Jenko in Nick Offerman’s office where Offerman’s Chief Deputy Hardy is openly counteracting the potential pitfalls of sequel syndrome by facing the fact head on. (“Do the same thing as last time, everyone’s happy.”) It’s back to the old headquarters for our two agents then, though the base has conveniently moved across the road. In the background preparations are under way for the construction of 23 Jump Street.
There aren’t any thoughtless attempts to evolve the Jump Street apple cart and the film vociferously makes us aware of that. Though in doing so, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s creation (or recreation) takes on a disguise of irony that is inherently funny. It uses this self-referential prerogative as a weapon, to cut through any sequel-related audience apprehensions and subsequently endear itself to us. We are constantly reminded that our expectations should be low, or at least no higher than last time around, for what’s about to come is a mirror image. The ruse works; we’re too busy laughing at the source’s jokes — driving through a cash machine — to fully consider the mechanics of the source itself. Essentially, by admitting the sequel is going to be much the same as the original, 22 Jump Street is a more engaging proposition because it serves and then effectively manipulates our preconceptions.
That’s just one running gag. The film motions forward in its prejudicial tirade by tapping into assumed college culture too. The volatile drug is aptly named WHYPHY, pronounced Wi-Fi, and it’s no coincidence that the side effects are a temporary buzz followed by likely danger. Notions surrounding internet addiction are vaguely pertinent but never wholly realised. We discover that the student majoring in art is unlikely to make any money when she graduates (who knew?) and there are also an obscene amount of “Bros” and “Dudes” verbally volleyed between the football players. College satire isn’t the film’s strongest comical outlet.
Indeed, the funniest moments throughout 22 Jump Street are delivered by the two leads. Both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are comfortable in their roles and the duo’s dynamic prevails as a result. It’s refreshing to see Hill continue along a path that he obviously loves navigating despite having tasted the golden allure of critical success. The peaks of his dramatic work — most of those roles are infused with humour anyway — would suggest that he’s probably a highly sought after fellow, but he seemingly still has much to offer in this genre.
Hill plays the socially awkward Schmidt across from Tatum’s Jenko, whose smarts are inversely proportional to his skill at football. The two funniest scenes involve each man without the other; it’s Schmidt’s slam poem versus Jenko’s slowly simmering realisation, and the difficulty in picking a winner is an indication of how funny both actors are in equal measure. Ice Cube, who returns as Captain Dickson, should also be noted for his hugely enjoyable turn as their always animated boss. Ride Along might have crashed and burned, but the man of many trades has shown he can be infectiously amusing when delivering superior material.
Unfortunately, the dramatic narrative between Schmidt and Jenko is a problem. Unlike the smart use of self-reference, there’s nothing shrewd about the less than budding brotherly developments between the two. Their collective arc is annoyingly mundane and, although this could be construed as another of the film’s this-is-a-sequel-so-don’t-expect-much contributions, it falls far short of the entertainment mark. The troll-like concept is funny in its manifestation as a running gag with frequent pit stops, but it fails to reward when blending into an overly schmaltzy and all too familiar story. In this instance there aren’t any jokes to veil Schmidt and Jenko’s generic bond and when attempted wisecracks are communicated, they fall on deaf ears. (The open investigation malarkey is a bit cringe-inducing due to its lack of invention and continued implementation.)
Two-hour-long gags aside, was it worth creating a sequel? I’d say so. Though not nearly as snappy or galvanising as The Lego Movie, Lord and Miller’s latest offering does trump their first visit to Jump Street. The deliberation now centres on where the franchise is headed next, if anywhere. It looks like the filmmakers have shot themselves in the foot regarding the prospect of a third film. (That sequel quip won’t work twice.) We’ll just have to wait and see.
There’s no uncertainty here. If this review of 22 Jump Street is at least moderately successful, I’ll consider writing another one. Fair warning: It’ll be exactly the same.