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Overall Rating

Awesome: 30.43%
Worth A Look34.78%
Average: 4.35%
Pretty Bad: 30.43%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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22 Jump Street
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by Brett Gallman

"Something cool."
5 stars

If Phil Lord and Christopher Miller haven't already added "miracle workers"to their resumes, they've earned the right do so after "22 Jump Street," a follow-up that unlocks the often elusive secret for comedy sequels: don't just do the same thing, even if that's exactly what everyone expects of you.

That's the familiar refrain hurled at the Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), the undercover duo from the previous film. Having outgrown their covert high school duties, they're now raising hell on a drug ring headed up by Ghost (Peter Stormare). When a bust goes hysterically wrong, the two are chewed out by Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman), who scolds them for not simply relying on their past success.

The participants all but wink at the camera during this exchange, which obviously doubles as a peek into most Hollywood pitch meetings for sequels. Naturally, it ends with Jenko and Schmidt shipped back over to Jump Street, where their next assignment charges them with attending a local college and snuffing out the latest designer drug on campus. Their orders are simple: infiltrate the dealers, find the suppliers--just like last time.

Of course, the only problem with that is the stale formula involved. By and large, most sequels are content to retread and rehash, and for whatever reason, comedy follow-ups are often ruthlessly slavish to their formula, even if such an approach is anathema to how the spontaneity of comedy works. You know the drill: the sequel finds our character (or characters) faced with a fit of deja vu and forced to retrace their steps through familiar situations and repeated jokes, and the effect is inherently diminished. How funny can the same jokes be a second time through? By that point, you're only laughing out of reflex.

Lord and Miller are well aware of this, however, and have set out to subvert certain expectations with "22 Jump Street," almost to the point of gimmickry. While their satiric fangs don't exactly sink deeply or chew on their targets with much complexity, they are sharp as hell. Like its predecessor (which was much better than it had any right to be), "22 Jump Street" functions as more than an empty romp because it's a goof on empty romps--there's no going through the motions here, but there are plenty of nods to those motions.

With that said, it's clever how well the film merely toys with expectations without absolutely blowing up the recognizable franchise, which almost feels like a concession audiences that do want more of the same (not to mention an acknowledgement that most meta-sequels are kind of full of their own shit--how many of them really go that far off the board?). Those folks are sated but also treated to a refreshing role-reversal: this time, it's Jenko who adapts well to the frat-jock scene at MC State, while Schmidt struggles to find his niche. Expectedly, tension ensues: if the opening sequence represents their honeymoon where the two finally realize their fantasy of becoming absolute badasses in a Michael Bay flick, then their trip to college signifies that their wedded bliss is over.

Even more so than the original film, "22 Jump Street" is about its central duo, whose drama eventually overwhelms the police procedural, which is just as well. While Lord and Miller have fun tinkering with and skirting around the cop-movie beats from the first film, they know whose show this is, and the principal cast, including Ice Cube, who is given more to do this time'is up to the task of carving out a satisfying emotional arc amidst the riotous laughs. The film borrows from romantic comedies as much as it does from buddy cop films or frat humor; essentially, Lord, Miller, and company have refined the bromantic comedy with "22 Jump Street," a film that again explores the dynamics of its leads' relationship in an intriguing way. In the first film, Jenko was forced to relive Schmidt's nerdy high school hell; here, Schmidt is once again an outcast tagalong in the eyes of frat boys.

I don't know that the film is ever as insightful as the first film's observations on clique dynamics and high school life when it comes to its college setting, but I'm pretty sure it's just as funny--if not absolutely funnier. Already canonized as one of the great on-screen comedy duos in the first film, Hill and Tatum click more efficiently here--even without the "Jump Street" gimmick, this franchise would be worthwhile for these two, whose chemistry fuels the entire endeavor. In keeping with the film's avoidance strategy, the two don't simply rely on typical odd couple gags; indeed, what's great about them here is that we know how well they work together, so we're obviously rooting for their relationship to weather the storm of beer-bongs and touchdown passes.

When separated, the two still manage to carry the proceedings pretty well. Hill is very much the same performer he's been since "Superbad," particularly in his ability to inject pathos into otherwise crass characters. There are moments in "22 Jump Street" where Schmidt finds himself in the little brother role--forgotten, cast aside as third wheel by Jenko and the frat crowd, and you feel for this miserable bastard each time he's forced to take his walks of shame.

But the real star here is Tatum, who somehow manages to feel like an even bigger movie star each time out these days. It's difficult to say for sure sure, but something tells me his turn as Jenko allowed him to finally let loose and have fun playing an exaggerated version of himself on screen. If so, he's naturally having even more fun here in an awesomely self-deprecating performance: his Jenko is now the most lovably hilarious meathead in ages. From his meet-cute with the school's star quarterback (Wyatt Russell) to his dimwitted, slow reactions, he's a complete delight as an ex-douche-with-a-heart-of-gold.

There's probably an entire film's worth of material that could be gleaned from the premise that has him taking a human sexuality class, where he realizes what an insensitive homophobe he once was, thus completing his character's transformation from high school jock king to good-hearted but oblivious dummy. I don't know why we always do this to young leading-man candidates, but we're initially inclined to dismiss them before finally embracing them once we realize they're awesome. If that hasn't already happened with Tatum (and the bandwagon should be absolutely overflowing after "22 Jump Street"), then it's probably time to end civilization and start all over again. He's probably my favorite actor working today is what I'm saying.

Surrounding Tatum and Hill is a fantastic cast; again, Ice Cube is afforded more screen-time and absolutely slays one sub-plot in particular. It's telling that it's arguably the most superfluous thread in the film, but it completely works due to the layers of pay-off involved. For all the attention they lavish on taking the piss out of sequels, the cast and crew haven't forgotten how to tell one hell of a joke.

The film is full of them, actually, with just about the entire cast getting involved: Stormare is wonderfully eccentric (it's a very Peter Stormare role, almost as if Lord and Miller just recruited him to reenact his turn from "Bad Boys 2"), and The Lucas Brothers appear as a pair of stoner twins with fun, synchronous bits throughout. However, the film's secret weapon is Jillian Bell's turn as a suspicious roommate constantly lobbing "old man" jokes in Schmidt's direction. That's almost her entire shtick, and she nails it.

Lord and Miller's deft touch is most obvious in their graceful handling of the sheer chaos that is this sequel--I haven't even mentioned the parade of cameos and the some other returning players from the first film, and it already seems like "22 Jump Street" should be the huge, bloated mess most sequels inevitably become. But here's the thing: it's not. For all its winks towards a bigger budget (the new Jump Street headquarters is laughably gaudy) and its self-awareness, the film actually feels like a leaner, tighter affair overall, as it carefully picks which spots to embrace absurdity (for example, the stunt-laden finale featuring a helicopter, which does make the climax of the original feel pretty quaint).

Fighting off a sequel's most obvious temptations might be the cleverest joke of all: everyone knows you go bigger and better for your follow-up. Not these guys, though; they get that you really only need great characters, and everything else will always work itself out--maybe. Even the film's final gambit calls this into question, as the end credits feature a running gag that continues the meta-assault on sequels and the exhaustive nature of franchising.

For 100 minutes, "22 Jump Street" seeks to reconfirm how fun its concept and duo are--and then it reminds you of what inevitably happens when you're given too much of a good thing as the credits roll. Quitting while you're ahead has never been more hilarious, assuming they resist the urge to return for another sequel. That might be the biggest miracle of all.

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originally posted: 06/12/14 14:02:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell better than the first very funny 4 stars
11/11/15 Danielle Great movie! I laughed a lot! :) 5 stars
4/05/15 mr.mike Fair sequel. 3 stars
12/04/14 Ayana Pendergrass A tear filled laugh fest! Funny movie! 4 stars
7/07/14 KingNeutron 2/3 of this film was CRINGEWORTHY. Netflix it, altho there were a few decent laughs 2 stars
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  13-Jun-2014 (R)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2014


  DVD: 18-Nov-2014

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