This is it. 22 Jump Street is the summer comedy we’ve been waiting for. This is the one that doesn’t just make you chuckle, but compels you to slap the armrest, to lurch and bounce forward in your seat because it’s the only way to get the laughs out.
I realize that the calendar says that it’s not officially summer yet, but we’ve been into the summer movie season for more than two months now. While big blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past have brought the widescreen spectacle, the summer’s comedy offerings thus far have been a bit lacking.
Neighbors had its funny moments and was willing to challenge viewers by making its lead characters unlikable at times. I actually appreciate that movie more upon thinking about it for a few weeks than I did when writing my review. I might have been a little too harsh in that initial reaction.
However, A Million Ways to Die in the West was a massive disappointment with big-budget aspirations. Perhaps I expected too much from it, as several people told me on Twitter. But I don’t think further contemplation or a second viewing will ever change that opinion.
So there was really one last hope for 2014’s great summer comedy. Could 22 Jump Street bring the laughs?
The success and quality of 2012’s 21 Jump Street seemed so improbable. At first glance, it seemed like a terrible idea, spoofing a 90s TV show that was totally a product of its time and mostly famous for spawning Johnny Depp. But the concept of young cops going back to high school undercover did have some cultural shelf life, and the movie capitalized on that.
But 21 Jump Street was also very astute in observing how much youth culture had changed over the past couple of generations. The nerds and geeks were now the cool ones and the jocks had become socially marginalized.
In high school, Channing Tatum’s Jenko was part of the popular crowd that never wanted those days to end, while Jonah Hill’s Schmidt couldn’t get the hell out of there fast enough. When the two went back as undercover cops, the dynamic had completely reversed. Schmidt thrived and Jenko wilted.
The whole premise was brilliantly summed up in the debate between the two over whether to wear their backpacks with one strap or two straps at school. (Video via Slate.com)
The other great revelation of 21 Jump Street is that Tatum could be funny. I previously thought of him as a thick-necked meathead who looked good at the front of an action movie or goopy romance, yet another that Hollywood was trying to convince me was the next big thing. But Tatum showed a willingness to turn that image over and make himself look ridiculous for a laugh. He wasn’t a guy that took himself too seriously.
After getting it so right the first time, were Tatum, Hill and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller pushing their luck by trying for repeat success? 22 Jump Street confronts that question right away with a meta-conversation full of nods and in-jokes about doing the exact same thing again, and attempting to maintain a successful formula with more money and flashy upgrades.
The whole movie could have been about those winks. Hey, we know we’re doing a sequel for the money and comedy sequels are rarely good. But HA — we’re in on the joke! And it would’ve been annoying and terrible. But Lord and Miller — along with writers Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman (I think I got everyone) — move on with telling a story and actually advancing its characters. Despite all the jokes to the contrary, this follow-up is not exactly the same movie as its predecessor.
22 Jump Street flips the script by having Jenko spread his wings and find like-minded friends at Metro City State. (Jocks do have it good on campus.) Meanwhile, Schmidt goes into an anti-social shell as he looks for his crowd. The movie is probably trying to say something about people finding themselves in college and gradually outgrowing our high school friends. But it doesn’t go too deep into that territory, opting to ramp up the laughs and stage big-action set pieces — just as we’d expect from a sequel.
One nitpick I have is that this movie’s cast isn’t nearly as deep. 21 Jump Street benefited greatly from Brie Larson as the romantic interest and strong supporting performances (some of them cameos) from Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Jake Johnson and Ellie Kemper. 22 Jump Street doesn’t have the same depth, relying more on its two stars this time. Fortunately, Tatum and Hill are more than capable of carrying the movie because they’re so comfortable as their characters and have great chemistry.
I do kind of wish a contemporary comedy could have two men as close friends and partners without making it a “bromance.” But the movie has to address the proverbial elephant in the room and mine it for laughs. I’ve read some people criticize the script for having homophobic undertones, but I didn’t get that sense at all. The Jenko-Schmidt friendship reminded me of J.D. and Turk on Scrubs, friends so close that they’re essentially a married couple. But not a couple.
The movie also benefits from boosting Ice Cube’s role as Jenko and Schmidt’s commanding officer, Captain Dickson. Yes, he’s here once again to be the foul-mouthed hard-ass who sees through the incompetence of the two bumbling cops forced upon him. But they also get results, and Dickson has to acknowledge that. The plot also links Dickson and Schmidt with a hilarious development, one that allows Ice Cube to get plenty of laughs by simply scowling and not saying a word.
Ultimately, 22 Jump Street is a savvy commentary on movie sequels and how comedy franchises were hopelessly diluted by multiple attempts to capture the same magic as the original product and get fans to spend more money. Make sure you stay during the credits to see how far the filmmakers take this joke. Not only is it funny and smart, but there is at least one big surprise. As a spoof, it’s right up there with the Austin Powers blockbuster movie production in Goldmember.
But by wringing every drop of that joke, this really should be the final word on Jenko and Schmidt, and the “Jump Street” franchise. Can Tatum, Hill, Lord and Miller really come back for another one after making so much fun of itself for doing so a second time?
Of course, money talks and if a good story can be written, it could be fun to see these characters again. Yet I think everyone involved is also smart enough to realize when to drop the mic and walk away.