22 Jump Street (2014)
They’re not 21 anymore
Filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made quite a name for themselves turning faddish franchises into box office gold. Back in 2012, the duo revived disposable 80s television show 21 Jump Street — chiefly responsible for the rise of actor Johnny Depp’s, Edward Scissorhands (1990), stardom — into an inspiringly fresh and funny buddy comedy, having previously transformed slender children’s picture book Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009) into a quirky, slapstick, hysterically tasty time, and earlier this year, shaped The LEGO Movie (2014) into a laugh-a-minute, thoughtful cinematic marvel — the pair are clearly on a winning streak. 22 Jump Street is no different.
Being the second live action picture directed by the duo, it’s evident that Lord and Miller simply have a knack for reveling in self-awareness. Additionally, the two tend not to separate their more zany ideas whether they’re directing for live action or animated features — there is an outrageously comical scene toward the start of 22 Jump Street that plays out exactly like a cartoon, where an octopus gets attached to Schmidt’s (Jonah Hill) face. Throughout proceedings, it’s obvious that Lord and Miller are exceedingly expert gag smiths, so tuned into modern popular culture and equally skilled at layering jokes — whether it be silly, slapstick, visual, verbal, referential, throwaway or carefully orchestrated comedy — the laughs in 22 Jump Street just keep on coming, hard and fast.
Seeing as 21 Jump Street was somewhat of a surprise hit, 22 Jump Street has evidentially been given a, somewhat unnecessarily, larger budget — which the film’s characters are well aware of, constantly alluding to its perks and disadvantages — and while the film, being totally self-aware, claims that, ‘everything in this picture is exactly like the first,’ frivolously mocking Hollywood sequels and openly commenting on studios repeating aged-old formulas, 22 Jump Street is a totally unpredictable, anything-goes state of affairs.
After an clever, ‘Previously on Jump Street,’ television style opening — something I’ve personally never seen on the silver screen before — 22 Jump Street gets off to a slightly slow, seen-it-all-before, kind of start, but luckily the unyielding gags, which persistently roll in at a steady pace, and the solid bromance between the picture’s leading males — which won audience over back in 2012 — again succeeds in capturing filmgoers interest and attention, transforming 22 Jump Street into the raging, unhinged ride it promises to be.
After going undercover as noticeably mature high-school students to bust open an up-market drug-ring in 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street opens where Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) attempt to take their partnership to the streets, pursuing drug dealers. After failing miserably in the attempted capture of a group of dealers led by Ghost (Peter Stormare), Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) puts the duo back on the exact same program that made them a success the first time around, though now working from 22 Jump Street — a Vietnamese church across the street from the Korean church that served as a base of operations in the first film. There, the belligerent Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) assigns Shmidt and Jenko to once again pose as conspicuously mature college students to bust up yet another designer drug ring.
Out to bring to an end to a new lethal narcotic named WHYPHY — pronounced WiFi — which was responsible for the death of a student on the campus, Jenko immediately becomes BFFs with Zook (Wyatt Russell) — the college star quarterback — and his football player fraternity friend, Rooster (Jimmy Tatro), who quickly become the prime suspects of the investigation. Meanwhile, Shmidt is relegated to the Art Majors, befriending Maya (Amber Stevens), whose room is conveniently across the hall from the victim’s. So once again, the undercover officers are out to find the users and dealers to infiltrate the supplier. Though this time around, the rift between Shmidt and Jenko — which, for the most part, played a major role in the first picture — is reversed, with Jenko forming a close relationship with the frat boys, while Shmidt is left alone, and often sulking, with the Art Majors.
In other words, 22 Jump Street basically tells the same story as 21 Jump Street, and the film is blatantly prepared to admit this on all accounts. What predominantly makes 22 Jump Street work, however, is the astute direction by Lord and Miller and sharp screenplay by Michael Bacall, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Rodney Rothman, Grudge Match (2013), and first-time screenwriter Oren Uziel, which willingly swan-dives into the rabbit hole of self reference; 22 Jump Street constantly hints back to the first outing, teasingly refers to the television series, sends up the ‘repetitious’ sequel formula — mocking what appears to be a creatively bankrupt Hollywood — comments on follow-up film overindulgence and plays up the financial side of movie making. There is a fantastic scene, where Shmidt and Jenko try, with varied success, to lead a car chase — on a football-helmet-shaped mini-vehicle — through less expensive sets, to save their department money, illustrating the economic movie-making machine. While the film plays around with the notion of repetition, it doesn’t always manage to make that echo fresh, but at least attempts to have fun with the material as best it can.
When our stay on 22 Jump Street does trod on all too familiar ground, it’s the dynamic buddy-cop chemistry between Hill and Tatum that benefits, and really rescues, the picture. The pair symbolize a classic study in contrasts, and their prominent partnership gives the film an opportunity to treat the duo as an old bickering married couple — as both characters are so in sync with one another’s thoughts, words and actions. Jonah Hill, Superbad (2007), accentuates his usual farcical persona, delivering some great comedic lines and sidesplitting moments with expert timing — Hill has somewhat becomes a master of the comedy-film craft. Channing Tatum, White House Down (2013), has grown into an especially powerful comic persona — sporting a mirthful, often blank, expressionless face — with an offhand wit and childlike enthusiasm that’s utterly infectious, and his work on 22 Jump Street solidifies his place as a commanding comic contender, whilst Ice Cube, Friday (1995), is superbly hysterical as the relentlessly raging and constantly fuming, F-bomb cursing Captain Dickson, possibly in career-top-form — Ice Cube, without a doubt, delivers the heartiest laughs in the entire picture.
When viewers think they’ve seen it all, the film veers — making the most of its college setting/lifestyle — into the same territory as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012), for its final act, with shots of scantily clad twenty-somethings drinking and partying on the beach — what college experience would be complete without a trip to Spring Break?
Ultimately, a sequel to 21 Jump Street — which I’m fairly certain no one in particular cried out for — feels somewhat unnecessary, though this follow-up revels in its non-necessity, hinting to viewers that they are essentially getting the same film as the first, all over again, and for no good reason; but remarkably enough, it works. Wacky, surprisingly fresh and ballooned with wall-to-wall laughs, 22 Jump Street — thanks to the exceeding flair of the creative minds and talent involved — is a sophisticated, facetious, meta extravaganza that’s sure to entertain and could quite possibly be the most fun viewers will have in theatres all year — as far as comedy is concerned anyway. While perhaps not as neat and tight as its predecessor, 22 Jump Street is certainly a smarter and more heartfelt picture, making it easy to give Lord and Miller an abundance of kudos for their efforts. Whether this sequel is better than the original is still up for debate, one thing’s for sure though, this franchise has most certainly grown up.
Spoiler Warning: Be sure to stick around during the end credit sequence for a series of awesomely laughable mock sequels and vignettes depicting Schmidt and Jenko going undercover in a range of unruly, unexpected places — a culinary school, flight school, seminary and a space camp titled, 2121 Jump Street are just the tip of the ice-burg — which include a selection of amusing cameos from the likes of Seth Rogen, This Is The End (2013), to Richard Grieco, who played Booker in the original series, teasingly suggesting to viewers that an endless franchise — as well as an animated series, video game and selection of toys — may be born from the events of these films. Riotous stuff indeed!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
22 Jump Street is released through Sony Pictures Australia