Just because a film is self-aware and knowingly refers to itself as an uninspired, tired sequel, does not make it OK to then actually be an uninspired, tired sequel. 21 Jump Street was the surprisingly funny 2012 re-imagination of the late 1980s TV show of the same name. 22 Jump Street (opening today) is its misfire sequel...it's not only a trip around a familiar block, it circles and circles the same proverbial block over and over and over...and over and over...and over. And over.
It's quite rare indeed, to craft a nearly-two-hour film around the same handful of jokes told repeatedly. Many of them land the first time they are told, but by the fifth, six and (no kidding) sometimes 20th trip to the same dried-up well, it is apparent that the joke really is on us after all. And not just in some sort of winking way. Again, just because a movie is self-aware doesn't make it smart.
Moving next door to their old HQ, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) literally take up residence at 22 Jump Street. Showing a ballsy flash of confidence, an early joke in the film shows a "23 Jump Street" condos being constructed nearby (more on potential sequels later). Schmidt and Jenko's superior officers, played by Nick Offerman and Ice Cube, talk about the success of the 21 Jump Street experiment - a division of the police where these two buddy cops were sent undercover into a high school to track down the origins of a new street drug - and because of its success, the station has kept its funding alive.
So that sets up the (wink, wink) familiar premise of this sequel, where instead of going back to high school, Schmidt and Jenko go undercover at a local college. We immediately expect our heroes to encounter some slutty women and attend a raging fraternity party, because you know, what else goes on at a college campus?
Our expectations are met in both cases. Sadly, their newest mission not only parallels their first one, it's more of a carbon copy.
Tatum's Jenko fits in with the other dumb jocks on the football team, namely quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell). Schmidt has a harder time, but ultimately falls for a lovely young girl, Maya (Amber Stevens), who just so happens to be Captain Dickson's (Ice Cube's) daughter. The two cops drift apart, but they still find time to share yet another unexpected drug trip (like the first film) and find themselves in unbelievable situation after unbelievable situation (like the first film). If you feel like you've seen this all before, it's because you have.
But the most striking difference between this film and its predecessor (a film I loved, by the way), is that 22 Jump Street is just not all that funny. It seems out of comedic rhythm from the very beginning, when a joke falls flat involving Schmidt being attacked by an octopus. When it does find the occasional laugh, it milks it for all its worth and then some.
Take for example, the character of Maya's bitchy roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell). We first meet her when she has apparently was in the same dorm room where Schmidt and Maya "get it on." She throws out a few "old" jokes about how Schmidt looks way too old to be at college...and the scene is pretty funny. But then, every single time she is on camera, she has about five more "old" one-liners prepared. By nearly the 50th diaper or liver-spotted-hand joke, the joke, the character and the film seems to have worn out its welcome and then some.
There are many occurrences like this - like the sexual innuendo between Hill and Tatum's buddy-cop, on-screen relationship - but none sum 22 Jump Street up more than its closing credit sequence. (Spoiler!) The joke is that they preview what the next sequel could be, following up 23 Jump Street with sneak-peeks of 24 Jump Street, 25 Jump Street...and beyond. One sequel sees them undercover at a hospital, in the military, in a church, in a studio for dance. The joke is funny for a hot minute, until the gag takes us all the way to 40 Jump Street and beyond. Like the rest of the jokes in this film, they just don't know when to quit.
The answer to that question - when to quit? - for this franchise was apparently after the first film. The overwhelming failure of 22 Jump Street probably also doesn't bode well creatively for the upcoming sequel to The Lego Movie. Created by the same duo of Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, let's hope that they have more to say in that sequel than just "hey, this is a sequel and it's probably not going to be as good as the first." That joke - used in countless other comedy sequels, by the way - used to be funny.
...the first 20 times we heard it. Apparently creating a "better" comedy sequel is a daunting task that usually ends in failure. Which then in turn, begs the sobering question: Why is one being made at all?
Genre: Comedy, Action, Crime
Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Nick Offerman
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie)
Opens locally on Friday, June 13, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time