Movies don’t get much more meta than 22 Jump Street. Perhaps The Cabin in the Woods and its terrific takedown of every horror trope of the last 30 years can match it reference for reference, but overall, the buddy comedy and the TV-to-film reboot haven’t seen this much insider schtick since The Brady Bunch went blockbuster. From its delirious dissection of Tinseltown’s sequel syndrome to its reversal and reliance on the same contrivances, it’s gut-busting proof that no one is better at making cinematic chicken salad out of barely passable poultry poo than Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Granted, three screenwriters came up with jokes here, but it’s this pair’s surreal sensibility, their innate knowledge of what will work for a 2014 audience that makes their crowd pleasing process so special.
After a hilarious montage that instantly catches us up on the previous film, we are reintroduced to Officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) as they are trying to take down a drug kingpin known as The Ghost (Peter Stormare). Naturally, they muck things up and are shipped back over to the Jump Street program, now at number 22, by Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman). While Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) is less than happy to see them, he does have a case they can work on. A student has died at the local university and a deadly drug known as “WHYPHY” (pronounced “Wi-Fi”) is to blame.
Hoping to discover the source, our heroes head over to the campus of Metropolitan City College and instantly take up where they left off in high school. Schmidt becomes a dour, depressed nerd while Jenko transforms into a frat boy favorite and celebrated member of the football team. The former falls for a clever co-ed (Amber Stevens) while seeking out clues. The latter lumbers around with his buds and bros. Eventually, they have a falling out, and it takes a trip for Spring Break to bring them back together. Once in Mexico, they come face to face with the source, as well as their reason for becoming policemen in the first place.
If all you need to grade a comedy is the number of laughs per minute, then 22 Jump Street will fulfill your funny business basics and then some. It’s also smart enough to anticipate your sequel complaints and address them first, head on. There are several sequences of sustained laughter so intense that you will probably need to see the movie a second time to catch all the callbacks. Take the moment when the identity of Schmidt’s campus conquest is revealed, or the car chase which attempts to avoid “expensive” collateral damage. A fight between Hill and a feisty female is also filled with over the top chuckles and Tatum’s instant identification with frat life is absolutely hilarious. So what if the film is merely recycling the plotline from the original? 22 Jump Street is well aware of this, and already two steps ahead of you in the criticism.
It’s the chemistry between Hill and Tatum that really sells this silliness. The former has established comedy chops, but his partner shines as well this time out. During a stakeout, his faked Hispanic accent is so amazing that it causes you to laugh even before he opens his mouth, and his reactions to Schmidt’s “hurt partner” persona (they’re like an old married couple now) are priceless. Hill may still be the experienced rib tickler, but Tatum may soon take his crown and together they make 22 Jump Street a real treat. Granted, it can all be a bit pointless, by that’s what mindless popcorn entertainment is all about. That Lord and Miller actually give this second go-round a brain to match its belly laughs is further indication of their “something from nothing” approach.