22 Jump Street – A Review

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“Oh shit”

– Channing Tatum

 Two little words. On their surface, they aren’t particularly revolutionary; most people say them – or at least think them – on a daily basis. It’s cursing, but it isn’t really; it’s been deemed bland enough that it can be said on basic cable. There is absolutely nothing about these two words that would indicate that anything spectacular is about to happen. However, as delivered by Channing Tatum and in the context of the scene in the new movie 22 Jump Street, the utterance of those two words set off one of the most prolonged periods of audience laughter that I’ve experienced in a long time. The cinema just exploded – everything about that scene was pitch perfect in its execution and while it was definitely the biggest laugh line of the movie, it wasn’t the only one. In fact, people were laughing so hard throughout 22 Jump Street that I may have to go see it again; I’d say that I easily missed 10% of the dialogue from all the uproarious reactions.

22 Jump Street is the self-aware follow up to 2012’s 21 Jump Street, a film that I really enjoyed and that served as my formal introduction to the comedic potential of Tatum. 21 Jump Street actually took me completely by surprise; I had little faith in the pairing of Tatum and Jonah Hill or the reboot of a television show from my childhood. But the chemistry between Tatum and Hill was spectacular and the jokes were frequent and funny, so the film won me over. It was easily one of the funnier movies that I’ve seen in the theater in the past few years. I wasn’t the only one who liked it and the film did very well at the box office.

It was inevitable that they would try to cash in on that success with a sequel, though my trepidation once again surfaced as we got closer to the release date. Sequels are rarely as good as the original and the frequent presence of both Tatum and Hill on all the late night talk show circuit had my antennae up. Over-promotion is often a harbinger or trouble ahead, so after the third time that I saw Hill chatting up a talk show host I just accepted that it is difficult to catch lightening in a bottle and the second trip to the well was going to be less fruitful. I received passes to an advance screening from Sony so I didn’t have a lot invested; if the movie was a turkey, at least I got to spend some time with a friend.

While 22 Jump Street did not exceed its predecessor, it more than matched it. Part of the reason that I think that the second film worked so well was because ultimately it was a sequel that was very meta about the fact that it was a sequel. A lot of the early laughs in 22 Jump Street come from the self-referential comments about the fact that this was not their first rodeo. Throughout the film, characters acknowledge that they should “do the exact same thing as last time” since “that was what worked.” The film also acknowledges that it now has a bigger budget and that this is the installment when the characters begin to drift apart. Other references to “red herrings” and Ice Cube also ensure that the audience knows that they are in on the joke. This isn’t the whole premise of the film, but the fact that they break the 4th wall a bit to wink at the viewer set the right tone for the film over all. Even though this film is a sequel, they manage to poke fun at the whole idea of sequels in the process.

The real strength of 22 Jump Street, however, continues to be its two leads; Hill and Tatum prove that their initial chemistry was not a fluke and they continue to be a solid comedic team. Tatum is still fearless in his devotion to bringing the doofy Jenko to life; he really does play a great dummy. Even though I knew what Tatum was capable comedically, it is still amusing to see him do his thing. If anything, his timing has slightly improved and he seems more confident in the role. Hill if of course less of a revelation given his comedy background, but he continues to be a perfect foil for Tatum. Schmidt may be the smarter of the two, but he has his own problems with his neediness and his over-reliance on Jenko. In this bromance, Schmidt is a bit smothering and once the pair goes undercover at college they are forced to broaden their horizons and go it alone more often. Schmidt, unsurprisingly, struggles with this.

Of course, none of this would matter if the jokes weren’t funny but that isn’t an issue in 22 Jump Street. I thought that the film got off to something of a slow start – partially because a lot of the clips that have been shown while the actors have been doing publicity came from those early scenes – but once the movie kicks it into gear the jokes are fast and furious. We aren’t dealing with the most innovative area of jokes – the general subject matter of most of the jokes isn’t all that sophisticated – but the writers and actors still find new material to mine or creative ways to look at well-tread material. Some things are just funny and everyone involved with 22 Jump Street knows how to make it work.

Some other thoughts:

  • There is indeed a joke at the very end of the credits; I don’t know if it is worth waiting for if you are in a hurry, but I found it amusing.
  • During the credits, the film explores suggestions for future installments in the franchise. Some of them actually looked pretty good – and I have no idea why no one has thought to make Tatum a fireman before. It’s a natural fit.
  • Some of the faculty of the college may look familiar – Patton Oswalt turns up as a political science professor and H Jon Benjamin (the voice of the title characters on Archer and Bob’s Burgers) is the football coach.
  • There are some other fun cameos that I won’t spoil, but look for some other familiar faces to turn up throughout. Here are some of the cameos and Easter Eggs that you might miss.
  • Nick Offerman – never not funny.
  • Also a bit of a surprise – Ice Cube. He usually just plays the straight man, but he gets to stretch his comedic muscles a bit more in this film. And there is nothing better than an Ice Cube reaction shot.
  • Amber Stevens plays a possible love interest for Schmidt; she formerly starred on the ABC Family series Greek (which, I did indeed watch). She has apparently carved out a nice niche for herself playing college students.

If you liked 21 Jump Street, you will not be disappointed by 22 Jump Street; it is almost as funny as the original and has so many laughs and sight gags that you will probably miss a lot it on your first viewing. Hill and Tatum are something of a comedy dream team and the writing is smart enough and self-aware that it breathes new life into what could have been a by-the-numbers installment. I left the theater with a face that hurt from laughing and a real desire for them to make 23 Jump Street. I don’t know how much gas is in the tank for this premise, but Hill and Tatum are just so good together that I can’t wait for them to collaborate again. This is easily the most that I’ve laughed at a film in a while. 22 Jump Street bucks the sequel trend and maintains the same level of quality and hilarity as the original film. Definitely worth seeing.

22 Jump Street opens nationwide today.

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