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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)

* * *

Director: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum

There is no reason at all that 21 Jump Street should have worked the way that it did. At best, it should have been a marginally funny but sort of forgettable way to kill an hour and forty minutes, the sort of movie you watch if it comes on TV and there's nothing else on. Instead it was pretty much awesome, setting a bar for television to film adaptations that is almost impossibly high. Magic happened with the first film, so what were the chances of the follow-up, 22 Jump Street, being anything but an utter disappointment? I don't know what the odds were exactly, but I know that somehow the team behind the franchise has found a way to make lightning strike twice. 22 Jump Street is a great summer movie, an entertainment of the very first order.

Picking up where 21 Jump Street left off, 22 Jump Street finds Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) attending online college, trying to find hidden messages in lectures which will reveal the location where illegal activities will be going down. After almost busting, and then ultimately (and elaborately) losing a group of drug suppliers led by Ghost (Peter Stormare), Schmidt and Jenko are sent back to the Jump Street program where Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) gives them their new assignment: they are to attend MC State College as students and discover the source that's been spreading a new drug known as "WHYPHY" around campus. Schmidt and Jenko install themselves in their dorm room and get to work, but when Jenko befriends Zook (Wyatt Russell), a football player/frat guy with whom he seems to have everything in common, Schmidt becomes jealous and the conflict threatens not only to tear their friendship apart, but also to undermine the investigation once the clues begin to point to Zook as the dealer.

While Jenko is enjoying his bromance with Zook, Schmidt gets involved with Maya (Amber Stevens), an art student who was the neighbor of a student who died after using WHYPHY and whose roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), develops an immediate antipathy towards Schmidt. After the investigation seemingly falls apart on the heels of a chase resulting in a massive amount of property damage, Schmidt walks away from the investigation and returns to work as a bicycle cop while Jenko stays behind and seems to seriously consider turning back the clock in order to pursue a college football career alongside Zook. However, when they learn that the WHYPHY supplier is planning to use Spring Break in Puerto Mexico to spread the drug to more schools, Jenko and Schmidt reteam in order to finish what they started.

If the plot description of 22 Jump Street sounds familiar, that's because it's telling the exact same story as 21 Jump Street, just on a slightly grander and more expensive scale. Most sequels do this, but the reason why it works so well here is because 22 Jump Street fully acknowledges what it's doing and makes that part of the joke. Just as the first film took a self-deprecating approach to the premise of a couple of men in their late 20s/early 30s going undercover as students at a high school, making it a part of the recurring fabric of its humor, the second film takes every opportunity to make a joke of the repetitive, everything's the same only bigger, nature of sequels. That might make for an easy target but 22 Jump Street hits it so flawlessly that it doesn't matter and the joke reaches an absolutely transcendent level once the film ends and gives way to its closing credits sequence, in which the potential phases of a long-running Jump Street franchise - including a "contract dispute" which finds Seth Rogan subbing for Hill in one entry - are explored. Though I think the Jump Street team should take their winnings and walk away from the table having made two perfect comedies, I have to confess that I would totally be there for the "Flight School" entry co-starring Anna Farris.

As in the first film, Hill and Tatum have great chemistry which sells every scene they share together, whether it's the outright comedy of the sequence which opens the film where Schmidt and Jenko role play as drug dealers when they meet Ghost and his men, or the faux maudlin scenes in which the two characters discuss their relationship. Though Hill and Tatum are more than skilled enough to carry the film on their own (particularly Tatum, who in both Jump Street films makes a case for himself as a stealth comedy genius), 22 Jump Street stacks the deck by expanding the role of Ice Cube and bringing in Bell as a more than worthy antagonist. 21 Jump Street was a rarity in and of itself, but 22 Jump Street manages to be something rarer still: it's a comedy sequel that's even better than the original.

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