Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
It’s rare to find a mainstream comedy sequel as progressive, character-driven, and self-aware as 22 Jump Street. With those going for it, the film didn’t even need to be funny. But it is, hilarious even, demonstrating that buddy cop films can offer something new and insightful while still thriving on their inherent absurdity. The film’s central characters, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), are still as inept and unready for their work as ever, failing to catch black market dealers in the film’s opening scene. It’s preceded, of course, by a montage of them handling guns and parading them as their prized possessions. They are idiots. But they are lovable, compassionate ones that need to work together undercover to be successful. If you think Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour put twists on buddy comedies and action, you haven’t seen anything yet.
The 21 Jump Street remake was never meant to work, as we’re often reminded by Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman), whose meta approach to life feels like he’s the direct link to the audience’s pulse. He tells the main characters that their failures are okay because the department decided to give them more money to do the same thing they did before; changing up the formula too much would ruin their success. There are references to Tatum’s past career choices, the basic premises of sequels, and the budding bromance between the two. Jenko and Schmidt are being assigned to a community college to find out about a drug known as “Whyphy” which recently killed a student. They need to “find the supplier, infiltrate the dealer,” a line uttered by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) that is identical to his mission in the first film. The two friends befriend various people in fraternities and art clubs that lead them down different paths, straining their budding partnership and leading to countless jokes about their romantic ties.
The film is keenly aware of the tropes of the buddy comedy and pushes its dichotomies to extremes. Schmidt becomes highly feminized, latching onto a girl after a one-night stand and insisting that they be more. He’s even seen making the famous walk of shame across campus with his shoes off. The girl he’s interested in, Maya (Amber Stevens), is independent and has a roommate named Mercedes (Jillian Bell) that constantly mocks Schmidt’s age. There are role reversals all-around, with the strongest emphasis placed on the main bromance’s intimacy. These are two men that clearly love each other and have the makings of a romance under every definition of the word. It’s a hilarious pursuit because of the way they still desire women and don’t seem to have success. Hill and Tatum are terrific fits in the leads because Hill plays the deadpan, emotionally driven Schmidt with ease while Tatum plays the affably stupid and charming Jenko with a great comedic presence. Their chemistry is remarkable.
Perhaps most importantly, 22 Jump Street is driven by its strong set of supporting characters. Female characters are given room to talk and gain power, something often reserved for men in comedies, and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller tackle the subplots with a surprising balance. The film handles serious relationships with a comedic bite. The writing is a bit drawn out at times, and the running time is too long (over 110 minutes, a staple of many comedies over the past few years), but the film moves through its busy plot swiftly. The story often acknowledges how similar it is to the first film; for those that didn’t care for 21 Jump Street, there won’t be much that will please here. The subversive look at modern college life and the making of films themselves leads to a strangely distanced yet universally approachable work. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, well-acted, and features the best end-credit sequence I’ve encountered all year. 22 Jump Street delivers a sufficiently developed story with a promise for many more to come.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)