Movie Review: 22 Jump Street
By Matthew Huntley
June 19, 2014
22 Jump Street might not have worked as well as it does had it not been so vocal and self-aware about being a sequel. The characters explicitly state, on more than one occasion, the plot “should be just like last time” because that’s what people want to see. There are also several cracks about the movie’s budget being “unnecessarily higher,” and it ends with faux previews of what seems to be an endless supply of future Jump Street installments (my personal favorite: 38 Jump Street: Dance Academy). By the end, these self-conscious and self-deprecating themes run a little thin, but luckily the screenplay has other rich and often inspired humor to fall back on.
Yes, in many ways, 22 Jump Street is nothing more than a carbon copy of its predecessor, only bigger, louder and more expensive. But it’ll also be the first to tell you this, and once it does, the humor rolls out freely and we simply enjoy it for its outrageous antics and sweet, likable characters. As before, this isn’t so much a send-up of the original 21 Jump Street television series (although it still is) as much as an attack on Hollywood conventions, particularly those pertaining to the buddy-cop movie.
The plot finds our favorite odd-couple police partners, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), once again on a mission to track down the dealer and supplier of a new synthetic drug called “WHY-PHY” (Work Hard? Yes. Play Hard? Yes). And, once again, their investigation requires them to go undercover as younger students in order to penetrate the drug’s primary demographic. The difference this time is Schmidt and Jenko head to college instead of high school, which is slightly more credulous.
Naturally, the mission becomes personal and winds up testing Schmidt and Jenko’s friendship. There’s some clever dialogue when Jenko suggests they try a separate, “open” investigation, followed by an amusing couple’s therapy session.
For Schmidt, college proves to be just as awkward and difficult as high school - he doesn’t fit in among the jocks and frat boys with whom Jenko so easily bonds. Jenko, on other hand, is having the time of his life playing college football, lifting weights and partying hard with his new BFF, Zook (Wyatt Russell). Schmidt gravitates toward the more artistic crowd (after posing a poetry slammer) and strikes up a relationship with the beautiful Maya (Amber Stevens). All the while, he and Jenko must keep up the ruse that they’re 19-year-olds and brothers, although it’s clear none of the other characters truly believe them on either count.
The movie isn’t at all shy about going through the motions of most buddy cop movies, but on top of these, it offers some surprisingly witty, original laughs. I particularly liked when the irascible Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) explains they’ve exceeded their operations budget and Schmidt and Jenko must consciously avoid causing any collateral damage during a car chase out of fear they won’t have the money to pay for it. They’re being pursued by a group of thugs in a Hummer and I wonder if this scene was a direct attack on the ending of Bad Boys II (I would hope that it is), in which a Hummer recklessly drove through a shantytown in Cuba. At one point, Jenko even comments, “It’s like they’re running into things on purpose. What a waste!”
If you even remotely liked 21 Jump Street, there’s no reason to think you won’t like 22 Jump Street just as much, or perhaps more. Instead of being just a spoof of a TV series, it becomes an all-out parody, falling somewhere between The Naked Gun and Rush Hour movies, cheerfully recycling its own humor while trying its hand at new hijinks.
With this in mind, though, I think the Jump Street series has a reached the point where it can simply leave us wanting more rather than become too self-aware and confident for its own good. The original told the same jokes first, and the sequel successfully expanded up on them, but I don’t think we need to hear them a third time. Otherwise, any future Jump Street might succumb to the very conventions these first two mock, only the joke would be on it and probably not as funny.