Cheerfully embracing its existence as a cash-grab sequel, 22 Jump Street delivers another big slab of good, silly fun.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as Schmidt and Jenko, respectively, police officers who were sent undercover to crack a high-school drug ring in 2012’s 21 Jump Street. The first film tracked the development of their friendship as their own high school experience was flipped upside down: Schmidt, the lonely geek, found himself in favor, while Jenko, the popular jock, found himself on the outside looking in.
The new film recycles the drug-related plot, sending the partners to live in a college dorm. It also reverses their social acceptance: Jenko’s athletic abilities are instantly recognized on the football field, while Schmidt has trouble fitting in.
Once again, 22 Jump Street mixes jokes, quips, and humorous line readings with a generous assortment of physical gags. It’s a scattershot approach that leans heavily toward nonsensical antics and a healthy disinterest in reality. Yet the film also relentlessly jokes about the nature of the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko; it seems that nearly everyone believes them to be gay and romantically involved, while the two men remain oblivious to the signals they’re giving off.
Using the f-word to refer to gay people is specifically condemned in a scene that comes late in the movie, though it feels like it was inserted to ward off any possible criticism of the earlier sequences that are reliant on two men “acting” gay. Frankly, it’s discomfiting, and not in a way that has anything to do with being politically correct.
In any event, the hit-or-miss nature of the comedy here is not as sure-handed as it was in the original, and occasionally the film slows down to the point where it’s a bit too aware that it’s a sequel and that expectations have, rightfully, been lowered. When the comedy kicks in, though, it’s very funny indeed, and the hits outnumber the misses by a good percentage.
Hill and Tatum make for a good comedy team; their physical differences and varied styles of delivery are used to fine advantage. Ice Cube returns to give good glare as their always-angry supervisor. The supporting cast features delightful turns by Amber Stevens (in the thankless role of Schmidt’s love interest, Maya); real-life twins The Lucas Brothers (as new dorm mates), and Jillian Bell, who practically steals the show as Maya’s roommate Mercedes, a dour young woman who rattles off insults like an out-of-control vending machine.
Returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, working from a script credited to Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, keep things lively, though it feels as though there are fewer flights of fancy. Perhaps they spent all their creativity on the end-credits sequence, which, without spoiling things, is the funniest thing in the movie.
Still, 22 Jump Street is a bright and funny picture, and generates more than enough laughs to justify its existence.
The film opens wide in theaters across North Texas on Friday, June 13.