Silver Screen: Twenty-two Jump Street ***1/2
The improbably funny big-screen incarnation of Twenty-one Jump Street got to have its reheated cake and eat it, too. The movie mercilessly mocked the conventions of TV-to-movie cash-in adaptations while simultaneously cashing in on that very same brand recognition. The slightly insipid hypocrisy was leavened by its lax attitude and barrage of mostly good jokes.
The sequel, Twenty-two Jump Street, applies this same formula to unnecessary and illogical sequels. Once more there’s the temptation to call B.S., yet again the movie is such a good-natured trifle that it seems pointless to be concerned with its venal sins.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as Schmidt and Jenko, former high-school rivals turned oddball pair of bumbling cops. They’re still clueless, still work for the same hyperbolically hard-nosed police commander (Ice Cube), and still tasked with going undercover to investigate drug crimes among the youth. But as Cube’s Captain Dickson points out, this is a sequel, so the budget and stakes must be jacked up for no reason whatsoever. Hence their bigger, needlessly more expensive headquarters across the road at Twenty-two Jump Street, and their progression to infiltrating a college where a new designer Adderall/ecstasy hybrid, called WHYPHY, is plaguing the student body.
Last time around nerd Schmidt reveled in his return to high school, while former jock and prom king Jenko bristled at the changes in the culture since his glory days. This time, as the sweetly confused Jenko notes, the reversal is reversed, which he didn’t expect because he expected things would be the opposite of his expectations. So Schmidt is back to being an artsy outcast, save for his fling with a beautiful young student (Amber Stevens) with a family secret of her own, while Jenko becomes the big man on campus when he joins the football team and hits it off with the quarterback and fellow dumdum Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn). Jenko’s new B.F.F. causes a fracture in the partners’ relationship, which threatens to imperil the investigation into the student dealer repping for drug runner Ghost (Peter Stormare).
The plot isn’t just secondary; its flimsiness is one of the movie’s many running gags. Like its predecessor, Twenty-two Jump Street is a haphazard collection of dick jokes and meta-references to its own shabby Hollywood pedigree. That’s not a bad thing, only because the vast majority of the jokes work, and Hill and Tatum are excellent in their respective roles. (Tatum is funnier than anyone that handsome has any right to be, best showcased in a hilarious scene in which he exuberantly celebrates making a connection everyone else figured out five minutes before.)
Some of the running gags might have been better if they’d run a little less. The constant references to Jenko and Schmidt’s partnership being like a gay relationship are inoffensive but tired. Yet even this becomes grist for the movie’s running self-critique, as Jenko bones up on homophobia for his human-sexuality class.
Twenty-two Jump Street is imperfect, but it’s also a perfect summer-matinee movie. It’s two hours of giddy popcorn-movie fun that never even briefly nods toward seriousness. The silliness extends from the opening sequence to the closing credits and beyond. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Twenty-one Jump Street, The Lego Movie) keep their comedy hot streak going, aided by ace performances from bit players Nick Offerman and identical twins the Lucas brothers, Keith and Kenny. I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.