Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Chris Miller and Phil Lord
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Nick Offerman, Peter Stormare, Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas, Craig Roberts, Caroline Aaron, Marc Evan Jackson, Dave Franco, Dax Flame, Richard Grieco, Dustin Nguyen.
More often than not sequels are disappointing. They are often a quick attempt to cash in on the success of the original film and rushed into production, merely repeating the winning formula without any real inspiration. And sometimes they are made without many of the original cast present. A few have actually maintained the standard of the original, while a few have even bettered the original.
And so it is with this sequel to 2012’s 21 Jump Street, which proves to be more enjoyable than its predecessor. 21 Jump Street was a fanciful and chaotic attempt to bring the hit 80’s police drama from prolific producer Stephen Cannell to the big screen. In that series, which starred a baby-faced Johnny Depp in his breakthrough role, young police officers were sent undercover into local high schools to deal with drugs and other serious crimes. Occasionally the show also dealt with hot button social issues like abortion, which gave it a relevancy. The show lasted for five seasons before it became obvious that its stars were looking too old to be convincing as high school students.
And that was one of the starting points for the comic approach taken by the directing team of Chris Miller and Phillip Lord (whose roots lie in a background in comedy) who also gave us the inventive animated hit Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and its sequel and the surprise hit The Lego Movie. Miller and Lord cast Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in their film version although both look too old to be high school students, and made numerous jokes at their expense. The film also took a more jokey and free wheeling approach to the police procedural, but it made a fortune at the box office, so hence this sequel.
22 Jump Street is big, loud, deliberately dumb, but it is also a lot of fun. The script from Michael Bacall (the first 21 Jump Street, etc), Oren Uziel (Mortal Kombat: Rebirth) and Rodney Rothman (the recent Grudge Match, etc) is hit and miss, but it hits the target more times than it misses this time around, which should please fans. They also manage to make the familiar material somehow seem fresh.
Hill and Tatum return as Schmidt and Jenko respectively. Since the success of their first mission the value of their unit has been acknowledged by the powers that be, and they have moved into more spacious accommodation across the road at 22 Jump Street (hence the title). But, as their gruff and humourless boss, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) points out, everything else seems to be the same. Schmidt and Jenko are sent undercover again but this time they are off to college to investigate the death of a student as a result of a new designer drug called Wyfy that is being distributed on campus.
“Do the same thing again and everyone is happy,” the pair are told. And that’s just what they do. Again they are like fish out of water in the strange environment of college and they struggle to fit in unnoticed. The investigation tests their friendship again; they face dangers again; and they eventually crack the case again.
But the investigation itself often takes a backseat to an exploration of the evolving and troubled bromance between the two characters. Schmidt and Jenko bicker continually, and follow their own paths to fit in on campus. Schmidt falls for art student Maya (Amber Stevens, from The Amazing Spiderman, etc), but suffers some harsh insults from her acerbic roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell, from tv series Workaholics, etc), who delivers many stinging putdowns about his age and looks. Meanwhile, Jenko takes classes in human sexuality and bonds closely with lunkheaded football hero and hard partying Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), and there is a strong homoerotic subtext to their relationship. The bromance angle here has the most overt homoerotic subtext since Paul Walker and Vin Diesel tangled in 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Part of the appeal of the film lies in the easy going chemistry between the odd couple pairing of Tatum, who has never really displayed a flair for comedy before, and Hill. Tatum throws himself into the role of the dumb Jenko with enthusiasm and seems willing to take the mickey out of himself and some of his own film history through some self-aware filmic references and in-jokes. He even shows an affinity for some slapstick comedy and physical humour, and he has a great gag at the expense of our own Cate Blanchett. Hill clearly looks too old to be a college student, a fact that is constantly mentioned by the filmmakers themselves in knowing asides to the audience.
Ice Cube reprises his role as their bad tempered boss, but he is given more to do this time around, and those scenes when he takes out his anger at Schmidt provide some wonderful moments. Peter Stormare must be on the speed dial of producers looking for someone to play a sleazy drug dealer or menacing villain, and he slips comfortably into a familiar role here as a baddie known as The Ghost. And the acerbic Bell almost steals the show with her putdowns. And Stevens brings a surprising vulnerability to her role, and the revelation of her true identity adds a frisson of tension to the material.
22 Jump Street is laced with many familiar cliches and crude humour of the college comedy – the frat boy parties, the football games, the drinking – but the film is also a little tonally uneven as it mixes sophormoric comic touchstones with many of the tropes of the cop buddy formula. And the writers also throw in some mild violence, shootouts, a car chase, and one of the funniest fight scenes you’ll see in some time. There are also some wonderful clever visual gags – such as the Bernard Hill School of Film glimpsed during a zany car chase – which may go over the heads of many in the audience.
Lord and Miller handle the material with lots of energy, not caring if some of the jokes miss the mark. They obviously know the law of diminishing returns on most sequels, and they make numerous references to the fact that this time around we are going to see more of the same. A nice early sight gag that shows construction work at 23 Jump Street hints at another sequel. And the end credit sequence is a hoot also as it shows posters for many potential future sequels, including 24 Jump Street, 33 Jump Street Generations, and even Flight School. But let’s hope that this franchise finishes while still on a high rather than continue on well past its use by date and become another Police Academy series.