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Review: ‘22 Jump Street’ is fun and hilarious, but noticeably tries too hard

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22 Jump Street

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Some of the best comedy comes from self-awareness. 21 Jump Street (2012) benefited greatly from it, and thankfully, so does its sequel, 22 Jump Street – in theaters this Friday. Both movies are hilarious – full of wit, outrageous humor, and undeniable chemistry from its dual leads. Both films are fully aware of their respective ridiculousness and relish in it.

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The first movie is a big screen adaptation/remake of a half-forgotten TV series from almost three decades ago that no one thought would ever work. It ended up being a pleasant surprise largely because of its ability to make fun of itself. In this age of Hollywood’s “gritty” remakes and reboots, it was refreshing to see one not take itself too seriously.

And now, the second Jump Street is a bigger, more expensive, and a near-formulaic carbon copy of the original (all of which is jokingly referenced repeatedly in the film). But again, it works somehow, someway. And while the film does ratchet up the action, stunts, and set pieces, as sequels tend to do, it also playfully pokes fun of itself for doing that very thing, just like the first did about being a remake.

In both cases, poking fun of itself is a thin line for a film to walk. The first used this technique effectively, yet sparingly, while the second film pushes it to the forefront and over-relies on it at times. The film, especially in the slower first half, is constantly self-referencing itself as not only a sequel, but also an action film, making jokes about the all-too-familiar plot tropes of both. On the whole, it does not hurt the film much, and to be quite honest, I am being nitpicky, but it does result in more than a few jokes that fall quite noticeably flat.

But there are more than enough jokes that do work, especially from Channing Tatum and Ice Cube (and curiously absent from Jonah Hill, the one with all the supposed comedic chops. But with two Oscar nominations, maybe he is the serious one now). The film is a rapid-fire joke cannon that hits much more often than it misses. It is also a silly movie with a surprisingly smart sense of humor. Both the speed and nature in which the jokes are delivered also cause for some to miss the mark, whether it be unfortunately, ill-timed jokes about Tracy Morgan and Maya Angelou or film references (Annie Hall, etc.) that younger generations are sure to miss.

And though, for reasons apparently out of my control, this review is focusing on the few negatives above the many positives. 22 Jump Street really is pretty great, filled with both smart and dumb comedy for universal appeal. (One more bad thing though: the first film also had more developed and funnier supporting characters). The action scenes are not amazing, but they do not need to be. 22 Jump Street is all about the rapid fire jokes and the fantastic chemistry between Hill and Tatum.

So, to wrap things up (and in an attempt to make my opinion of the film a bit clearer), 22 Jump Street really is a very entertaining and uproariously funny movie, but it is just not quite as successful across the board as its predecessor. It tries a bit too hard to be clever. It works sometimes, but it is all the more noticeable when it does not. Now having said that all that, 22 Jump Street is still one of the funniest comedy sequels in a very long time, in a genre that consistently produces significantly inferior follow-ups. And despite what my review appears to say, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

* * * * out of 5 stars

22 Jump Street opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 13 and locally at The Theatres at Canal Place, Chalmette Movies, The Grand 14 at Esplanade, and all three AMC Palace theaters (Elmwood 20, Westbank 16, and Clearview 12).

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