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Movie Review: '22 Jump Street' (2014) Starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill

22 Jump Street” not only pokes fun at itself on numerous occasions but also japes at sequels in general, emphasizing their shortcomings despite increased production values and a keener eye for what audiences desire. The problem with highlighting these imperfections is that this follow up to 2012’s unexpectedly popular flick falls victim to those very blunders, and attempts to mask lazy plot points and floundering dialogue as clever self-referential wittiness. When the gags aren’t being highly repetitious, they’re rarely thoroughly competent (regardless of a vigorous start or finish). The ridiculing of pecuniary problems, slam-poetry recitals, and drug-induced hallucinations begins astutely enough, but rapidly turns stale. Alternately, clingy relationship analogies, dating foibles, and weird college roommates commence unsteadily yet gradually find their charm. A stronger focus on crafting fresh jokes over deriding existing clichés might have allowed “22 Jump Street” to eclipse its predecessor.

Moving into their new headquarters at 22 Jump Street, narcotics agents Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are once again sent undercover, this time to locate the dealer of a dangerous new drug dubbed “Whyphy.” Assuming the identities of college freshmen, the two enroll in MC State and begin investigating several of the students. While the athletic Jenko quickly bonds with football players Zook (Wyatt Russell) and Rooster (Jimmy Tatro), Schmidt gets close to refined art major Maya (Amber Stevens). But as the officers’ newfound colleagues and lifestyles begin to cloud their sleuthing abilities, the once inseparable duo find themselves at odds, with both their friendship and the case placed in jeopardy.

Like the “Scream” franchise, “22 Jump Street” goes to great lengths to single out the inherent flaws and routine difficulties with a specific genre – here, sequels in general (though the action comedy genre is also a target). While budgets increase exponentially, stunts, props, scripts, actors, and, most importantly, laughs are commonly less rewarding. Although the first few self-aware stabs at the repetitive exchanges, the church-based headquarters, and the nearly identical assignment are humorous, the continued jabs at the film’s own expense actually detract from the fun. It’s as if the filmmakers not only want to make audiences aware of probable sequel-oriented faults to come, but also to reveal those very defects in the movie as it unfolds (though the end credits sequence takes this notion to hysterical new heights). Was the original formula truly worthy of a sequel? “22 Jump Street” shouldn’t be asking that question of its own viewers.

Previous near-death experiences haven’t inspired any sincerity or recognition of mortality from the nearly cartoonlike lead characters. Fortunately for them, the new batch of villains (led by the visually perfect Peter Stormare) are equally inept and completely incapable of inflicting real damage – even with guns pointed at the heroes while in confined spaces, or while Jenko, with a fresh bullet wound in his shoulder, dangles from a helicopter’s landing skids. Ultimately, it’s the embarrassing situations and awkward relationship innuendo that keeps the project afloat, paired with the underlying theme of best friends growing apart (and a couple of outrageous racial jokes). The anticipated spoofs of fraternity habits, rushing, roomies, dormitory inconveniences, unbearably boring classes, and drugs make an appearance, along with expected mockeries of heavy drinking and alcohol-influenced sex. And since the protagonists are more engaged in being liked and accomplishing childhood goals instead of solving a drug ring case, “22 Jump Street” runs out of ideas very swiftly.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)