"21 Jump Street" was one of the biggest surprises of 2012. It gave Jonah Hill the opportunity to be the star and writer of his very own franchise and firmly established that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller could translate their wacky, meta brand of humor from animation to live action. Most impressively, it informed the world that Channing Tatum wasn’t an air-headed beefcake but a natural born comedian. And I’m not just talking chuckle funny but laugh out loud hilarious! Although they were polar opposites, Tatum and Hill made for a weirdly appealing duo. Their oddball chemistry and bickering was a major reason why the film worked so well. Still, it was the witty and frequently profane screenplay by Hill and Michael Bacall, simultaneously embracing and poking fun of genre clichés, which made it the most memorable comedy of the year.
Now, two years later, all major parties, including Hill, Tatum, Bacall and Miller & Lord are back for the sequel—the appropriately titled "22 Jump Street." And this time, the comedy is even more self-referential than "21." Where high school, TV show and buddy cop tropes were the targets in the first film, Lord and Miller, who hit critical and commercial pay dirt earlier this year with "The Lego Movie," take it even further this time around by lampooning college staples, male relationships and sequels in general. References are constantly being made about how sequels (including the one they’re in) are blatant rehashes of what worked well in the first film, except bigger and crazier. In fact, the entire plot of "22 Jump Street" is a reworking of the 2012 film. It’s just not as funny this time. Whether or not that was the intention of Lord, Miller and company depends on how much credit you’re willing to give them.
As much as they pack the film with meta-commentary, there’s still room for an emotional arc here and on that count, both Hill and Tatum are game. Hill, now a two-time Oscar nominee (it’s still doesn’t register), does well as the emotionally awkward Schmidt who once again feels left out after Jenko starts hanging out with the cool kids on campus. Tatum, on the other hand continues to be best in show, rocking Jenko’s effortless dumb/smart super-cop routine. Once again, the duo’s bromance takes center stage. There’s bonding, there’s bickering, then fighting, a divorce, and finally, a much expected kiss and make-up. While there’s a way to infer the film’s homoeroticism as passive aggressive homophobia, there’s just too much silliness at play here to take anything seriously.
Director: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Writers: Michael Bacall, Rodney Rothman, Oren Uziel, Jonah Hill
Principal Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell
Editing: Keith Brachmann, David Rennie
Cinematography: Barry Peterson
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Running time: 112 minutes
Companies: Columbia Pictures, MGM
Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence