Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some language.
Running time: 112 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.
“22 Jump Street” is pretty much the exact same movie as “21 Jump Street.” It knows it, you know it, and it knows that you know it. And that is why it’s brilliant.
You’ve got to hand it to directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” notwithstanding, they’ve made a career out of directing movies that are wholly aware of the conventions of their genres — aware of the cliches and formulas and the laziness that results from playing it safe — and they embrace them in a way that makes them seem not only strangely new but exhilarating.
Their surprise 2012 hit “21 Jump Street” made fun of the trend of taking decades-old television programs and turning them into movies that nobody ever really needed to see anyway. Starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as mismatched buddy cops who go undercover at a high school, “21 Jump Street” parodied the nostalgic tug these movies are supposed to provide, only to slowly but surely morph into a legitimate action picture with genuine thrills. Lord and Miller get to laugh at their cake and eat it too.
Earlier this year, the hilarious and high-energy “The Lego Movie” very knowingly toyed with the way we regard toys and the way toys regard each other in movies, only to wrap up with a massive twist that made all that playtime seem so much more poignant. The perky anthem “Everything Is Awesome” is indeed awesome, but it’s also a pointed statement on the oppressive blandness that permeates pop culture. Again, Lord and Miller always find a way to have it both ways. All we can do is watch in awe as their films function on multiple levels simultaneously.
Now we have “22 Jump Street,” which — like “The Lego Movie” — will require a second viewing to catch all the clever, rapid-fire lines, details and bits you missed while you were busy laughing your ass off. It is a sequel that tools on how unoriginal sequels tend to be. The script from Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman takes absolutely no chances, but still ends up feeling daring — or, at least, entertaining as hell.
This time, Tatum and Hill reteam as Metro City cops Jenko and Schmidt. Their office is now in the Vietnamese church across the street from where they used to work, where the address is — you guessed it — 22 Jump Street. Their boss, Capt. Dickson (a perpetually pissed and profane Ice Cube), sends them to college on what is essentially the same assignment they had when he sent them to high school: uncover a drug ring. Dickson knows it’s the same assignment, Jenko and Schmidt know it and we know it. He even goes so far as to tell them to do the exact same thing they did last time. Some variation on that phrasing crops up repeatedly in “22 Jump Street,” but even the repetition ends up being absurdly funny. There are also several references to “the budget” in a sly wink at the production process itself.
Whereas high school was the nerdy Schmidt’s place to shine, college is tailor-made for the beefy Jenko. In no time, he’s become the football team’s star receiver and gotten in tight with the jock frat on campus. Ostensibly, all this socializing is for the sake of the investigation, but it takes him away from his partner and pal Schmidt, who never quite fits in when it comes time to do traditional manly-man things like open beer bottles with your eyelids.
The way “22 Jump Street” explores the rift that develops between them — as well as the blossoming friendship Jenko enjoys with quarterback and fraternity president Zook (Wyatt Russell) — isn’t just astute, it’s surprisingly touching. For several sequences, these characters play it totally straight, for lack of a better word, while in the extremes of heterosexual male friendship. Jenko is torn between two lovers, if you will, even going so far as to attend couples therapy with Schmidt to allow the two to work through their resentments and jealousies. But “22 Jump Street” remains kind to its characters throughout, and to the emotions that emerge from these bromances, which are real and complex.
Still, Jenko and Schmidt have a job to do: seek out the dealer whose popular synthetic drug, known as Why-Phy (say it out loud) resulted in the death of a promising, female student. As is always the case in mismatched buddy-cop movies, they approach this task in very different ways. Schmidt is the brain, Jenko is the brawn, but invariably they stumble toward their discoveries together. Sometimes that means literal stumbling, as “22 Jump Street” features chases that rival Looney Tunes in their cartoonishness.
Through it all, Hill and Tatum retain a loose, comfortable chemistry, and an energy as they bounce off each other that’s infectious. Hill is the master of the deadpan, self-deprecating one-liner, while Tatum goes big in his buffoonery. They’re both so completely endearing that you long to see them in other kinds of movies. (Along those lines, PLEASE stay for the closing credits, which might be the best part of the entire film.) Hill also has some lovely moments with Amber Stevens as the art major who provides both intel and romance. Meanwhile, Russell, as Jenko’s new BFF, is afforded more decency than you usually see from such a BMOC type.
Among the packed supporting cast — which includes Nick Offerman, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle and Peter Stormare — Jillian Bell is a standout as Stevens’ snarky roommate, who’s onto the fact that he’s a narc from day one. She knows it, he knows it, we all know it. Whoever said “Change is good” should stop thinking so hard.