The team behind 21 Jump Street made the ingenious decision of making its ill-advised adaptation of an old TV show about ill-advisedly adapting an old TV show into a movie. Making 22 Jump Street about the ill-advisedness of sequels is not an ingenious decision; that is not because it is the wrong idea, but because it is the obvious (albeit correct) idea. That is to say, for 22 Jump Street to work, it has to go beyond that ill-advisedness concept. This movie does acknowledge the ridiculousness of sending Officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) back to school again to infiltrate a drug ring again. But whether it acknowledges it or not, being essentially the same movie all over again is bound to induce some fatigue. There are the same constant jokes about how they look too old to be in school cranked up to 11, as well as the same initial role reversal. The latter is not as inspired this time around, though, as Jenko joins the football team and is anointed the big man on campus, which is in line with the role he was used to prior to 21 Jump Street. But at least Schmidt is not with a group of outcasts per se, so much as an alternative crowd, which he wins over with an impromptu performance at a poetry slam that earns him the nickname “Maya Angelou” (which effectively works as a loving tribute to the late poet laureate).
The separation of Schmidt and Jenko works to set up a love story of sorts, in which the former must work through his neediness and the latter his insensitivity. This leads to the two of them frequently being mistaken for a gay couple, most notably in a therapy session with a psychology professor (a perfectly cast Marc Evan Jackson) who had them pegged as “partners” as soon as he met them. This could be construed as gay panic, that most tired of bro-comedy gags, but it is actually quite the opposite. Neither Schmidt nor (the formerly ignorant) Jenko would really mind being mistaken for gay. If anything, 22 Jump Street emphasizes how okay they are with this a bit too much. But it does lead to a triumphant moment in which Jenko gets to hilariously display what he has been learning in a human sexuality course and how open-minded he has become now that he he no longer carelessly throws around homophobic pejoratives like he did in high school.
Most of the lampshade-hanging sequel gags are not imaginative enough to make 22 Jump Street an unqualified success. But there is one crowning success in this regard: the climactic chase scene through campus, which features some of the most conceptual humor in modern mainstream American cinema. Schmidt and Jenko drive through the most expensive areas of campus, even though they could have very easily taken a route that would have led to far less damage. Schmidt cries out how upset their superiors will be over having to pay for such expensive damages and the parallel implication here is obviously that movie studios will ultimately regret having the most expensive stunts for their comedy sequels when they are completely unnecessary. I was cracking up throughout this sequence, though the audience I saw it with responded more vigorously to the broader moments, courtesy primarily of a frighteningly committed Ice Cube (returning as Schmidt and Jenko’s captain). (SPOILER-Y item of note: Cube’s role is more similar to his in Ride Along than it is to 21 Jump Street, as Schmidt dates a girl who turns out to be the captain’s daughter. This connection is only magnified by the resemblance between Amber Stevens – who plays his daughter – and Tika Sumpter – who played his sister in Ride.)
A cap is placed on the sequel meta-ness with a montage that plays during the credits that seems to provide a definitive answer regarding any potential further sequels. It is the strongest sustained segment of the whole film, and it wins my vote for funniest scene of 2014. That intensity cannot be maintained for the entirety of the running time, but it presents a closing argument of sorts that makes the hour and fifty minutes that precedes it wholly worth it.
One More Point of Note: For a movie so aware of being a sequel and that even includes a gag about a contract dispute with an actor, it is a bit jarring that Brie Larson does not reprise her role from 21 Jump Street and that her absence is never acknowledged. Although, I suppose that, as a huge Brie Larson, I was just more inclined to notice that than anyone else.
Jeff Malone is a voracious entertainment consumer and entertainment creator. He currently resides in New York City, where he is working on a Master’s in Media Studies at The New School. In addition to his pieces on TMRzoo.com, you can check out his blog (jmunney.wordpress.com), where he provides regular coverage of Community and Saturday Night Live, as well as other television, film, music, and the rest of pop culture.