Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in a scene from ‘22 Jump Street.’
Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are back. So are 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie). But 22 Jump Street is testament that some bands shouldn’t get back together.
A comic takedown of the cult Fox undercover cop drama of the same name from the 1980s, 2012’s 21 Jump Street was a so-so comedy with novelty in its favor. Without that freshness, 22 Jump Street struggles for consistent laughs even more.
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
Screenplay by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, based on the Fox TV show.
A Sony/Columbia-MGM release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity, and some violence.
Running time: 112 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, The Lucas Brothers, Peter Stormare.
After going over undercover as high school students to take down a drug dealer, Jenko, the brawny meathead, and Schmidt, the brainy melodramatist, are sent to the generic MC State to stop a new drug called WHYPHY (Wi-Fi) from flooding the campus and beyond.
After joining the campus, the pair zero in on two football players named Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt and Goldie) and Rooster (Jimmy Tatro). As part of the investigation, Jenko joins the football team and the players‘ fraternity. But his bro-bonding with the like-minded Zook causes Schmidt to feel left out, jeopardizing their friendship and the investigation.
At least Schmidt can take comfort in hooking up with an attractive coed named Maya (Amber Stevens) who’s way out of his league, as her roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell) repeatedly points out in verbal assaults about Schmidt’s age. Bell, a former writer for Saturday Night Live and a regular on the Comedy Central series Workaholics, is the best addition to the film.
Patton Oswalt has an all-too-brief but humorous cameo as a tenured professor who encourages Jenko to be himself, while Ice Cube, back as the profane and easily aggravated Captain Dickson, steals scenes just as he did in 21 Jump Street.
The Zook and Jenko camaraderie over beers, in the weight room, and on the football field has its laughs, as does sad sack Schmidt’s jealousy of their friendship. But there‘s not enough new material for Tatum and Hill. And what there is — such as Schmidt improvising a poetry slam piece — isn’t worth the effort.
The actors have a surprising comic chemistry together onscreen, but the script saddles them with the same Mutt-and-Jeff humor that the first Jump Street explored. Breaking free of the familiar is the sequel‘s biggest struggle.
In a brilliant piece of comedy meta, 22 Jump Street acknowledges as much as Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) lectures Jenko and Schmidt before their next undercover assignment at college.
He reminds them that their first assignment was a surprise success, which necessitated the need for another operation by the undercover officers. Only this time the budget for their operation is much bigger, as are the expectations.
Coming so early in the film, the self-referential speech suggests this comedy won’t take such expectations too seriously and apply the same formula of most sequels: a cut-and-paste script, with a new setting and a few news faces, in the hopes that audiences either won’t notice or won‘t care. In TV parlance, this is classic Jump the Shark criteria, and 22 Jump Street leaps and bounds away.
So how many times can Jenko and Schmidt go undercover to ferret out drug dealers? The film address that question in another clever meta spoof during end credits, with a parade of Jump Street sequels set in the worlds of culinary, dancing, and the military, among others.
The fictitious sequel possibilities for the comedy are absurd and hysterical. As 22 Jump Street proves, the reality is anything but.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.