Few people, if anyone, expected the original 21 Jump Street movie to be a success. Even directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known as the creators of animated TV series, Clone High, and for helming this year’s smash family-friendly hit, The LEGO Movie, seem astonished that their ludicrous adaptation struck as much of a chord with audiences as it did!
Despite the unenviable task of adapting an increasingly absurd television drama from the 80’s and 90’s however, and re-tooling it as a full-blown comedy, 21 Jump Street stood alongside Ted as by far one of the funniest and most entertaining movies of 2012, as well as one of the most successful R-rated offerings at the box office. It was inevitable then that Sony Pictures would look for any excuse to devise a sequel, with Lord and Miller at the helm again, and the first movie’s lead cast and screenwriters returning as well.
Enter 22 Jump Street, one of the most self-aware redundant sequels of all time. No, really. A massive chunk of the humour is derived simply from 22 Jump Street poking fun at itself over its own unlikely existence. There are even sight gags, including a massive faux sizzle reel that plays over the initial credits, that jokingly tease increasingly desperate sequels to follow. Sure, there are other jokes, but for the most part, 22 Jump Street is a sequel that has one key joke; It’s a sequel.
With that said however, if the movie is recycling plot elements and cliches ironically, does that still make it funny? Well, yes, though some of the diminishing returns are genuine, as it’s difficult to deny that 22 Jump Street isn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as its predecessor for the most part. It’s still funny, mind you, and that will certainly be quite enough for people who already enjoyed the original, but the novelty of such a surprise success has somewhat worn off here.
It may still be worth the trip to 22 Jump Street, so to speak, but it’s best to keep your expectations in check as well.
22 Jump Street once again stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Jenko and Schmidt respectively, former high school enemies that became best buddies at the police academy. After a series of blatant in-jokes in reference to studio decisions and sequelizing, following a botched bust that you have to see to believe, 22 Jump Street sends our two heroes across the street to its new address, once again under the care of Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson.
As with the first movie, Ice Cube remains a highlight, continuing to prove that, when he’s actually given a good script and good direction, he can indeed be a very funny man. He once again delivers many of the movie’s best lines, and he continues to play well off of Jonah Hill in particular with his increased hatred of Schmidt, which reaches a hysterical new high point in this sequel.
That said of course, Tatum and Hill continue to shine as Jenko and Schmidt, once again under their fake identities of Brad and Doug McQuaid. The two once again display impeccable comedic chemistry, which helps to sell even the most deranged and ambitious of the sequel’s gags, including a running gag that finally sees the status quo restored after the two had a popularity role reversal back at Sagan High in the first movie. Yes, it’s meant to be an in-joke about creative bankruptcy in a sequel, but watching Tatum and Hill interact is the only reason why it effectively feels humourous at any point.
It’s also difficult to deny that the movie’s new villains are not nearly as interesting as Dave Franco’s honour roll drug dealer and Rob Riggle’s offbeat gym teacher from the first movie as well, even if both have a disappointingly fleeting cameo in the sequel. Peter Stormare plays one of the chief villains, Ghost, who is simply a generic drug lord stereotype, and while his character does lead to a decent, albeit illogical twist with one of the supporting characters for the movie’s climax (and one that seems to have been given away in the trailers, rather infuriatingly), Stormare just isn’t given anything worthwhile to do unfortunately.
Speaking of the new supporting cast, they at least also carry their share of jokes. Amber Stevens plays an initially generic new love interest to Schmidt, Maya (Molly from the first movie is never even mentioned, unfortunately), but she at least provides new foils for Schmidt with the influence of other characters. This is especially true in regards to Maya’s socially awkward roommate, Mercedes, played in a standout turn by Jillian Bell, who is funnier than she has any right to be via constantly accusing Schmidt of being too old for college with increasingly ludicrous sarcasm.
Jenko meanwhile gets caught up in the rush of college football, getting a chance to re-discover his potential after his shaky graduation from high school, complete with an idealized new football buddy, Zook, played by Wyatt Russell. Honestly though, this is a complete filler arc that audiences know ultimately won’t go anywhere, and it comes off as padding that just feels like a waste of time, with little to no actual gags to spare.
This is rather unfortunate, as it feels like Schmidt is innately given more interesting material than Jenko in the sequel, rather than the two both equally sharing chances to shine like in the first movie. Considering how much Channing Tatum really demonstrated his comedic chops as Jenko in 21 Jump Street, it’s a shame that he now seems to be completely playing second fiddle to Jonah Hill this time around.
Fortunately, as misguided as the arc of trying to drive apart Jenko and Schmidt is this time, the two still spend plenty of time together, and that’s when the laughs tend to come most frequently and aggressively, particularly when Ice Cube is also thrown into the mix. The movie tries to spice things up with some more unexpected cameos as well, though again, it’s not nearly as satisfying or funny as when Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise made a surprise return as their characters from the TV series back in the first movie.
There’s charm amongst the cast, but the lost novelty from the first movie means that we now expect a lot more of the jokes in advance now. This hurts 22 Jump Street’s character arcs and comedic appeal, since it has less of an ability to play with audience’s expectations, and that makes it feel a bit less interesting than its predecessor.
The cast still certainly delivers enough solid humour to carry the sequel, but it just doesn’t seem like Metro City State College has nearly as much charm as Sagan High unfortunately.
22 Jump Street goes as far to state it outright: “It’s the same case! Do the same thing!”
Again, there’s sort of a meta sense of humour regarding the fact that 22 Jump Street has almost the exact same premise as its predecessor, only now our two protagonists are in college, rather than high school. They’re once again targeting a drug with an eccentric name, in this case, WHYPHY (which doesn’t have nearly the funny charm of H.F.S. from the first movie), which is being distributed through the school via seemingly internal means.
To be fair, 22 Jump Street varies its actual plot sequences, but the framework for the story is mostly the same. Sure, it’s played for self-aware laughs, but even an ironic rehash is still a rehash.
To put it generously though, the plot, frankly, doesn’t matter. That’s part of what the movie’s gags poke fun at as well. Ultimately, people are going to the movie for the actual jokes, and the storyline behind it all is pretty well circumstantial.
Fortunately, the jokes themselves are funny, even if the actual, spottier entertainment value of them makes this second movie feel significantly more disjointed than the first. You have to put up with some well-intentioned, but no less annoying storytelling nuisances to get to the quality humour sneaking up from it, and this makes 22 Jump Street feel a bit less inviting than its predecessor is.
Another generous and fair assessment however is that 22 Jump Street is designing its story structure strictly for people who already enjoyed the first movie a lot. Given that it surprisingly beat family blockbuster, How To Train Your Dragon 2 at its opening weekend box office duel as well, those fans aren’t exactly in short supply, in all fairness.
Still, for all of its good jokes and playful self-awareness, 22 Jump Street’s satirical plot lacks some of the charm of the first movie’s storyline, especially since it seems to contain less of an ability to surprise its audience throughout much of the duration.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller are back in the director’s chair after helming the original 21 Jump Street movie together, and they seem to have listened to feedback for the most part. The sugary, hyper-kinetic direction from the first movie is toned down a bit, but still given its own eccentric, zany flavouring that separates this sequel from other R-rated comedies. This does make the second movie feel a bit less engaging than the first, but if you felt that the first movie was directed more obnoxiously, you’ll be happy to hear that the sequel is a little more subdued.
Even then however, Lord and Miller make sure to have fun with their cast. They continue to work very well with Tatum and Hill, giving them just enough freedom to breathe and ad-lib without the movie feeling in any way lackadaisical, and many of the supporting actors are helped to deliver a self-aware deadpan schtick that works well with the contrast of Tatum and Hill’s more energetic performances and framing. An exception of course is Ice Cube, who is simply allowed to go nuts as the over-the-top, perpetually furious Captain Dickson, and like the first movie, 22 Jump Street is all the better for it.
It’s easy to get the sense that Sony Pictures themselves are surprised at the first movie’s success, and have thus kept studio intervention to a minimum, in order to allow Lord and Miller to just be as ridiculous as they want to be. Their off-the-wall vision for 22 Jump Street at least shines through in the direction, even if the script doesn’t contain quite as many laugh-out-loud moments as its predecessor.
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK
The score of 22 Jump Street is again composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, who is largely just recycling what he did before, with only minor variations. This is no doubt intentional, as this sequel seems intent on poking so much fun at itself for the mere virtue of being a mandated follow-up.
There’s still a handful of funny moments that are sold all the more by the bombastic soundtrack, which feels like the one thing that’s just as unrestrained in the second movie as it was in the first, but for the most part, some of the more brilliant sound cues from 21 Jump Street’s funniest moments sadly aren’t repeated here.
As with the original, the only time that actually visual effects tend to come into play is when Jenko and Schmidt are, again, forced to consume the very drugs that they’re trying to stop. The sequence that follows is more uneven than the relentlessly hilarious H.F.S. sequence from the first movie, but one effects-driven drug hallucination scene in particular is sure to have the audience laughing quite a lot.
It’s virtually the only one of its kind, given the sequel wanting to rein back some of the more hyperactive direction from the first movie, but a few visual sight gags are still managed here and there. I would be remiss to spoil them though!
There’s just no getting around it; 22 Jump Street isn’t as good as the original. There’s less novelty and less surprise, and it just doesn’t feel like it wholly replicates the same mad scientists’ comedy formula of 21 Jump Street nearly as effectively.
With that said though, this is far from a botched follow-up. 22 Jump Street is still very funny at its best, and at least smile-worthy at all other times. It’s just a bit more uneven in terms of the entertainment it actually delivers, even if it still manages to be pretty funny for the most part. Like I said, your expectations are best kept in check here.
If you really liked the first movie, you’ll like the second, even if you’ll no doubt agree that Lord and Miller delivered a better movie the first time. If you didn’t care for or understand the appeal of the previous 21 Jump Street movie, you certainly won’t understand it here either. When it comes down to it, this is a sequel made mostly for fans of the original, and that’s fair enough, since 21 Jump Street still easily stands as one of the best comedy movies of 2012 overall, and has plenty of fans as a result.
If Schmidt, Jenko and co. are indeed to keep on shifting over to 23 Jump Street however, perhaps they should look for a more unexpected batch of new material.
It occasionally becomes the uninspired sequel that it attempts to satirize, but 22 Jump Street is funny and charming enough to be worth the trip for fans of its predecessor.