Still Jumping… Again
By Johnny Pomatto
Sequels are a tricky business. Even the good ones can give you a feeling of “been there, done that.” However the 2012 comedy “21 Jump Street” played on the very premise that its source material was stale and familiar. The first film was surprisingly funny, effectively playing off the chemistry of its mismatched leads, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as Officers Schmidt and Jenko. Now Tatum and Hill are back for a follow-up that also plays with conventions of the medium, and I’m happy to say that for the most part it avoids many of the trappings of the common sequel.
The film’s best and funniest joke is that a sequel requires the characters to essentially repeat what they did the first time around, and just barely one-upping their last adventures enough to appear fresh and new. Therefore, they move their headquarters across the street to the titular address, and instead of going undercover at a high school the pair enrolls in college. While the first film explored the idea of Schmidt and Jenko having their high school roles reversed, 22 JUMP STREET keeps the two a little too safely in their comfort zone cliques, giving Tatum another shot at becoming a college football star and connecting with a frat brother, played by the up and coming star in the making Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt. Meanwhile Hill experiences the promiscuity of dorm room college co-eds and laments that his bromance with Tatum is fading, all while attempting to bust a drug ring at the university. It’s much denser than it needs to be but the beauty of the film is that none of this plot really matters all that much.
22 JUMP STREET is at its best when it pokes fun of how unnecessary this sequel really is. We get frequent self aware laugh lines referencing the stars’ salary bumps, some of their failed projects since the last film (“White House Down” gets appropriately put in its place), and Nick Offerman once again stops the movie with a speech explaining what exactly “the people” want to see from their latest adventure. We even get hilarious cameos from the villains of the last film, (Rob Riggle and Dave Franco) who offer more advice on how to keep things fresh in a sequel. It’s a shame that after the first two acts of the movie so expertly lampoons the notion that the plot is exactly the same as the first film and doesn’t really matter, that the film seems to forget its own joke in the last act and take the meaningless mystery seriously for the first time.
Still, even with some slow down in the last act, it’s so refreshing to see a comedy, (especially a sequel) that doesn’t scrimp on the jokes. For as popular as the recent comedy “Neighbors” was, I was disappointed by how few laughs there ultimately were. Sure, the film had a great energy and tone to it, and the stars had undeniable chemistry, but there were few big comedic set pieces and very rarely did the dialogue exhibit much wit and silliness. I even gave a mild recommendation to Seth Macfarlane’s critically reviled “A Million Ways to Die in the West” just because of the sheer number of rapid-fire jokes that were attempted, even if many of those jokes landed with a thud.
Under the direction of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 22 JUMP STREET has a great comedic tone, even when Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel’s script starts to tread water a bit. In fact, between the two Jump Street films and this past spring’s “The Lego Movie,” Lord and Miller are proving themselves to be some of the freshest comedic voices working today, and they could be masterful satirists in the making. As I watched the hysterical end credit sequence for 22 JUMP STREET, which is worth the price of admission alone, I realized that while Hill and Tatum’s chemistry makes this film a lot of fun, it’s actually Lord and Miller, quietly pulling the strings, who are the ones that deserve our gratitude.
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes
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