22 Jump Street (2014)
If you’ve read my previous review of 21 Jump Street, then you’re in luck, because this review is exactly the same. You see, that review was an unexpected success, and now the people in charge of this site have brought me back to do the exact same thing all over again. Only this time, there’s more money involved, and there will likely be more moments of introspection and drama, even though we already know how it’ll all end.
Well, that’s one of the main gags in 2014’s 22 Jump Street, anyway. This sequel to the reboot of the TV series 21 Jump Street is about as meta as a film can get. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Ice Cube reprise their roles as characters constantly aware of being in a film. Directed again by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 22 Jump Street is the rare sequel that’s funnier, smarter, and all-around better than the already hilarious original film.
The film takes place immediately after the events of the first film, where undercover agents Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill), fresh from successfully infiltrating a high school drug ring, are assigned to infiltrate a college. However, they’re soon frustrated when they find out that it’s an online college. After logging off, they decide to go undercover to bust a dealer known as the Ghost (Peter Stormare). But instead of drugs, they find exotic animals, and Schmidt ends up with a smuggled octopus latched onto his face.
This failure causes their deputy (Nick Offerman) to think twice about assigning them to a new case. Instead, he wants them to do the exact same thing as their first mission, but instead of a high school, they’ll go undercover at a college to find the source of a new lethal drug called “Work Hard, Yes; Play Hard, Yes” (WHYPHY for short, and yes, that’s pronounced like “wi-fi”). They again meet up with Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) at a new location: 22 Jump Street, with the movie revealing that the previous abandoned church was sold, and there just happened to be another abandoned church right across the street.
While they expect the mission to be just like their previous one, they soon discover that college kids are much better at spotting narcs. This time around, Schmidt finds that he has trouble making friends, while Jenko is quickly rising in status. During a walk-on football game, Jenko impresses Zook (Wyatt Russell) with his athleticism and knack for doing odd things with sandwiches. Jenko joins the football team, where his friendship with Zook causes a rift between him and Schmidt, but Schmidt finds solace by hanging out with the art students instead.
One of those art students is Maya (Amber Stevens, daughter of Shadoe), who Schmidt sleeps with before learning that she’s the daughter of his captain. Dickson finds out and proceeds to make Schmidt’s life a living hell. On top of this, Maya’s roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell) immediately sees through Schmidt’s cover and makes endless jokes about how old he is.
Meanwhile, as Jenko becomes closer to Zook, he learns that Zook may be involved in the distribution of WHYPHY. To help in their investigation, the cops meet up with the now-incarcerated criminals from the first film: gym coach Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle) and Eric (Dave Franco). The two are mostly here to provide obligatory prison rape jokes, but Walters does point out that in a photo, the WHYPHY dealer has a distinct tattoo of a soldier firing a bazooka.
After football practice, Jenko discovers that Zook has the exact same tattoo, but because of their friendship, he refuses to believe that Zook could be a criminal. But then Jenko and Schmidt apparently psychically ascertain that Zook isn’t the dealer; he’s actually the one buying drugs in the photo.
Their quest for new leads has them finding Ghost in the library discussing WHYPHY (with the joke being that college kids don’t use libraries anymore, so all that goes on in the stacks nowadays is drug deals). The cops realize that everything has been right in front of them the whole time, and that includes both the details of their case and the importance of their partnership. They head down to Mexico to take down Ghost at spring break, while also repairing their damaged friendship.
21 Jump Street was an unexpected surprise that utilized multiple styles of comedy while also laughing at its very existence. Most people knew that it was a “reboot” of a nearly forgotten television series, but few could have anticipated how meta it would get. It was simultaneously a great comedy and also a commentary on soulless cash-cow films that repeatedly come out of Hollywood.
22 Jump Street continues that trend by being more meta, busier, and in the end, even funnier than the first. This is partly because the film now has other targets to attack aside from reboots: sequels (copying the current trend of changing the name of the series in random fashion), bromances, and even the cast’s career choices.
If you liked the first film, you’ll probably laugh a lot here. The jokes are non-stop, and the film rarely loses steam. However, the film partially suffers from the same thing that afflicted the first: the use of unfunny diatribes that are obviously on-set improv. Jillian Bell is clearly the worst offender, and while her “you’re old” schtick targeted at Schmidt is funny at first, it never really develops. The set piece where she and Hill have a knock-down, drag-out fight and stop for a moment of possible intimacy is funny, but it still goes on way too long and quickly becomes a chore.
Without reading the script, I can’t say what was written and what was improv. However, many of the one-liners, set pieces, and visual gags are expertly delivered and come at a breakneck pace. This makes it even more bothersome when an Apatow-inspired improv scene arrives, and although they’re few and far between, they still stick out like a sore thumb.
Another minor drawback is that, try as they might, satirizing college life is not nearly as funny as taking aim at high school. College films have been done to death, and there’s nothing really new added in that regard. Compared to the previous movie’s take on modern high school in the first film, this feels a lot less pointed.
However, even the college and improv scenes will likely make some moviegoers laugh, and it’s hard to fault a film for throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Make no mistake, 22 Jump Street does everything it can to get you laughing non-stop. There are throwaway gags, barely audible voiceover gags, plus visual wordplay found on buildings or even jerseys. And the closing credits not only predict 23 Jump Street, but plots out the entire life of the franchise with an endless parade of clips and posters for fake sequels (including cameos from Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Richard Grieco as Booker), along with fake ads for Jump Street video games and action figures and an animated series.
All of this adds up to a film that feels fresh amongst play-it-safe comedies and films. This film knows its audience, and it recognizes its place as pop-culture fodder. While meta films will become increasingly tiresome as they start to become in fashion, 22 Jump Street was an unexpectedly hilarious sequel to an unexpectedly hilarious film. And I sincerely can’t wait to review 37 Jump Street: Scuba Class.