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Don’t dare accuse Phil Lord and Christopher Miller‘s 22 Jump Street of being a paint-by-numbers sequel, a piece of Hollywood hackwork that aims to be exactly like the first, only bigger and more expensive — the men and their screenwriters will make that case for you, and when they do it, you’ll laugh. “Nobody gave a shit about the Jump Street reboot,” says Ice Cube‘s hardass Captain Dickson — the first of many times when a character speaks of the fictional crime-fighting operation in ways that clearly refer to the movie itself — but having succeeded, Dickson says, it will continue. He goes on: “We’ve doubled the budget, as if that would double the profit.”
True to its promise, this one practically Xeroxes the first film’s plot, having bumbling cops Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum pose as students to bust a campus drug ring whose dangerous new pharmaceutical just claimed its first life. This time, Tatum’s Jenko is the one who bonds with the cool kids he’s supposed to be investigating, abandoning his unhip partner, Schmidt (Hill) — the betrayal is even captured on surveillance equipment, as it was last time. Fortunately, 22 is just like 21 in at least one more way: It’s laugh-packed, self-aware in a manner that lets everyone in on the joke, and goofily satisfying in the action department. Though doubling the profit of the $202-million grossing original is as silly a goal as Capt. Dickson suggests, this outing should have no trouble connecting at the box office.
The partners enter the film in the kind of blockbuster-grade chase 21 couldn’t have attempted: Having caught a crime lord called Ghost (Peter Stormare) with an 18-wheeler full of illegal exotic animals, they wind up riding atop it as it careens down the highway, dangling from its sides and menacing its drivers, Terminator-style, until … they flop. Soon Dickson and the police brass (Nick Offerman) decide the men should stick with what they’ve already succeeded at. Do it just like last time, Offerman insists in his patented voice of authority.
Happily (since the men aren’t getting any younger), this new drug craze is surging at a college instead of at a high school. And at a fraternity-friendly campus, Jenko is finally on territory he understands: He finds his soulmate in Zook (Wyatt Russell), a quarterback who gets Jenko on the football team and in with the Zetas. Dimwitted Jenko, who never got past high school (“I’m the first person in my family to pretend to go to college,” he tells Schmidt proudly) is finally getting to live the touchdowns-and-raging-keggers dream.
One of the most winning things about 21 Jump Street was watching Tatum, whose genes should make him king of any known high school, work through mystification, anger and sadness when confronted with teens who didn’t value his brand of dumb-macho cool. Making Schmidt the outcast this time is less successful: The plump, clumsy, socially awkward dude is the one who’s supposed to be unhappy, right? So the screenwriters dive deep into bromance, focusing on awkward encounters in which Jenko tries to expand his world without hurting Schmidt’s feelings. “Maybe we should just investigate other people,” he says. Soon the “open investigation” becomes an explicit breakup, and an Annie Hall gag dropped slyly into the opening scenes bears unexpected fruit.
It’s not all bad news for Schmidt, who starts a sexually gratifying but potentially disastrous relationship with a lovely art student named Maya (Amber Stevens). That woman’s perpetually grumpy roommate (Jillian Bell) gets more mileage than anyone out of the film’s many jokes about the stars’ age, but Maya seems blind to Schmidt’s schlubbiness.
The most reliable humor here comes from the film’s 30 Rock-like way of drawing attention to the showbiz cliches it’s indulging in, but Ice Cube wasn’t joking about the production value: In addition to meta gags, we do get big stunty chases and the like, especially when the action moves south for spring break. The finale is totally ridiculous but fun, finally allowing these two mismatched buddies to form one perfect unit of cop-flick cool.
Production companies: Original Film, Cannell Studios
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Screenwriters: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman
Producers: Jonah Hill, Neal H. Moritz, Channing Tatum
Executive producers: Brian Bell, Stephen J. Cannell, Reid Carolin, Tania Landau, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Director of photography: Barry Peterson
Production designer: Steve Saklad
Costume designer: Leesa Evans
Editors: Keith Brachmann, David Rennie
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Rated R, 111 minutes
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