The critical and commercial success of 21 Jump Street came as a huge surprise. Despite being one of many uninspired reboots/remakes that have been taking over the cinema the last decade, 21 Jump Street ended up feeling really fresh. The self-awareness of being an unnecessary reboot of an old TV show and the satirical approach that the film took with itself made it a smart and interesting film. It was also very, very funny. So, is it possible for 22 Jump Street to capture the same magic that made the first one work so well?
22 Jump Street follows Shmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) fresh off the success of the 21 Jump Street program. Unfortunately, they aren’t doing very well on the streets because according to Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman), they aren’t doing the exact same thing that worked before. So, they are sent back to the program under Captain Dickson’s (Ice Cube) command, though the location is now across the street from the original-at 22 Jump Street, where they are given an undercover assignment as college students to locate a drug supplier.
If that plot sounds like a rehash of the first film, then you’re partially right. Yes, in a way, this is the exact same film as the first, but what makes this film special is its approach and attitude. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (fresh off The Lego Movie) use a similar self-aware approach that they used for the first one. While the first one was a satirical look at pointless and cynical reboots and remakes of nostalgic properties, this film is a satirical look at pointless, cynical sequels and unnecessary franchising. From the beginning, Captain Dickson is going on about how bigger their budget is by showing off absurd upgrades in their headquarters and there are points where Hardy and Dickson tell Schmidt and Jenko to just do the exact same thing they did before so they can replicate the success of their first case. Though, this self-awareness might seem like it could get tedious at some point, the film presents just enough unique situations and non-stop gags to make the film work overall.
The best thing about these films has been the pairing of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and here, there chemistry is even better. In fact, it’s so good that it goes full Top Gun, with the homoeroticism often coming in full force to the point where the film actually uses it to hilarious effect. Another aspect regarding them is how much care is placed on the characters. The writing by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman does a good job at putting the characters in interesting situations and showing how they react to them. They do it a way that gives them more dimension and they actually develop as the film goes on. The love that the filmmakers have for the characters really sell the otherwise absurd situations they get themselves in, and to me, it elevates the film above most other studio comedies.
The other element that makes film works as well as it does is the directorial efforts of Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I would argue that the dynamic duo is America’s answer to Edgar Wright in the sense that they use the film medium to its fullest advantage, utilizing sound, cinematography and editing, among others, to make the film as funny as it possibly can be. Probably due to their animation experience from the TV show Clone High to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to The Lego Movie, they have a very frenetic and over-the-top energy to their directing style, plus an absurd attention to detail, that makes the postmodern absurdism of the Jump Street films work. They also have a sincerity that adds a lot of heart into their projects that makes them endearing. If these two weren’t in the director’s chair for the Jump Street films, they would not have been as memorable as they are.
Now, I probably should get to the one thing that people want to know. Is the film funny? Yes, it’s very, very funny. Like I said, despite the story essentially being a rehash of the first, it’s presented in a way that makes this one work just as well. It’s presenting a bigger and better approach to its most outlandish extreme, and it all comes together very well. The two leads work even better this time around, the visual gags are more ambitious, and some side characters are given much more to do. Ice Cube in particular has a scene that is easily one of the highlights of the film. The jokes are quick and when they do miss (which happens a handful of times), it’s followed by another set of jokes that works incredibly well. So, by the time the film is over, you’ll only find yourself remembering all the great things about the film and none of the stuff that didn’t work as well. This is definitely the best comedy of 2014 so far.
With 22 Jump Street, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller managed to do the near-impossible and make a genuinely great comedy sequel that is just as good, if not better than the original. It’s easily the best one since Hot Shots Part Deux (which, in my opinion, is the only other great comedy sequel, not including animation or spiritual sequels). The care and attention to character combined with the fourth-wall imploding levels of meta-humor and satire makes for one of the most interesting franchises of all time. On its own terms, it contains great performances, great direction, some fun and enthralling action sequences and a unique sense of humor. If you liked 21 Jump Street, there’s no reason you won’t at least like this one. Oh, and stay during the credits because not only are the end credits the funniest I’ve ever seen, there’s a little scene at the end worth checking out.
Side Note: So, that is now four films in a row, ranging from great to full blown masterpiece, in Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s filmography without a single fluke. That’s a rare feat; even the best of directors will hit a brief fall in quality after one or two films. I honestly think that these two are some of the best directors working today, and I don’t just mean in comedy. They are currently involved in the upcoming TV show Last Man on Earth, which is created by and starring Will Forte and no one else. It hasn’t been announced what film they will work on next, though they are serving as producers for The Lego Movie sequel, which will be directed by Chris McKay. So, apart from that, nothing has been announced yet. Hey, Warner Brothers? How about you hire these guys for a DC film? If the rumors of a Shazam film are true, then take advantage before Marvel picks them up.