Cast: Schmidt (Jonah Hill), Jenko (Channing Tatum), Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), Zook (Wyatt Russell), Maya (Amber Stevens), Mercedes (Jillian Bell), Ghost (Peter Stormare)
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“So… um… the guys who made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs are going to turn a TV crime drama into a big-screen comedy starring Jonah Hill and some random beefcake-looking guy?” Those were my thoughts when I first heard about the plans for 21 Jump Street. At that point, Channing Tatum had done precisely nothing to make me think he could actually be a decent actor, much less a funny one. But he proved everyone wrong in 2012 with both 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike, and that crazy adaptation I’d been so skeptical about ended up being one of the only movies I watched more than once that year.
I loved 21 Jump Street, but had braced myself for the sequel to be a disappointment. Because we all know that’s what sequels usually are. Instead, the whole team—including returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (riding a high from The LEGO Movie earlier this year) and returning screenwriter Michael Bacall (joined by Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman)—were able to up their game under the guise of doing “exactly the same thing.”
After a genius “Previously on…” segment reminds us what happened last time around, we’re reunited with agents Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) just in time to watch them fail miserably at catching a group of suspected drug dealers. Their higher-ups realize this duo needs to do exactly what they did before in order to be successful. Following a not-at-all-subtle riff on the suckiness of sequels, they’re returned to Captain Dickson’s (Ice Cube) team, where they’ll go back to sniffing out the supplier of a new deadly drug. Only this time it’s at college instead of high school, because no one’s getting any younger.
Schmidt and Jenko have their bromance put to the test once again when Jenko is immediately taken in by a frat guy/fellow footballer called Zook (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt, though you could’ve told me he was a younger Wilson brother and I’d have believed you). Schmidt recedes to the outskirts of social life on campus, falling in with a slam-poetry crowd that includes Maya (Amber Stevens), who soon becomes his romantic interest. The partners find themselves going their separate ways in the investigation, and this time it’s Jenko who may have grown too connected to his cover identity.
Yeah, it sounds like the same ol’ same old… but it’s not. There is so much about 22 Jump Street that I respect. While it may not be hard to come up with a funny rant against sequels, it’s much tougher to pull off a consistent injection of smart, hilarious and completely random cinematic references throughout the course of a nearly two-hour-long film. Everything from Annie Hall to Bad Boys to White House Down gets a nod, on top of nudge-and-wink shout-outs to Benny Hill, Cate Blanchett, and Dora the Explorer. Even Ice Cube (with a much bigger role as the perpetually pissed-off Dickson) gets a ribbing, though one of my favorite gags has to do with a particularly overused plot device.
These little touches are what make the movie worthy of at least one viewing. As are the supporting-cast performances, with standouts being Maya’s very angry roommate (Jillian Bell) who’s suspicious of Schmidt from the beginning, and the freakishly in-sync twins across the hall (played by the Lucas Brothers). Even the end credits alone are funnier than most feature-length comedies I’ve seen over the past year.
I won’t go so far as to say that 22 Jump Street is better than its predecessor, though. What gave 21 Jump Street the edge was not only its “newness” and the surprise factor of it actually being a really funny movie that no one saw coming, but also a supporting cast that had a lot more to do than their counterparts in the sequel. Dave Franco and Brie Larson in particular, but even Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper made strong, lasting impressions.
The bottom line: Despite an abundance of “lazy sequel” jokes in the film, no one took the easy way out in 22 Jump Street. It might have a little less heart than the original, but it’s every bit as clever and funny.
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