Mark Reviews Movies

22 Jump Street


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell, Peter Stormare, Jillian Bell, the Lucas Brothers, Nick Offerman

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 6/13/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 11, 2014

The central question posed by 22 Jump Street has nothing to do with its characters, its scenario, its sense of humor, or its diversions into action, yet it has everything to do which each and every one of those things. The main question of this sequel is the necessity of its very existence. If one knows the first film, which openly doubted the need for reviving an old intellectual property (such as the television show upon which it was very loosely based) in the years or decades after it first appeared, this will come as no surprise.

What is a surprise is that this film works in an almost completely different way from—and to pretty much the same degree as—its predecessor, despite the fact that it is essentially doing everything the original has already done. The difference is that 21 Jump Street mocked its premise only to spring into something that worked beyond the self-referential joke. It may not have respected its origins, but once the satirical formalities were out of the way, the film was really a character-based comedy that took the dynamic of its main characters seriously.

In the sequel, though, just about everyone is in on the joke. This includes our heroes: two cops named Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), who find themselves once again on assignment to once again go undercover in an educational institute because, once again, there's a potentially deadly drug circulating among the student body.

They know this sounds familiar—perhaps too familiar. They even suggest alternatives, such as Jenko proposing that they join the Secret Service and protect the White House. Their captain (Ice Cube) tells them no; they're basically going to do the same thing they did a couple of years ago. Instead of high school, though, they'll be undercover at college. He explains this in their newly refurbished headquarters, which is directly across the street from the old one, where people are already planning construction on a new building at 23 Jump Street.

Before that, the chief of police (Nick Offerman, that master of deadpan delivery) once again explains their new assignment in terms that sound suspiciously like they should be coming out of the mouth of a jaded Hollywood executive or a worn-out film critic. He didn't think their first assignment would go over well, but it did. Now there's demand to do it again, and the bigwigs have decided the new assignment should be exactly like the first one but with a bigger budget. As if money is going to cover up laziness, the cynical chief opines.

Here's a film that doesn't really need to exist that justifies its being by admitting it is a questionable affair. This is a tough trick to accomplish. The risk is in the admission of inherent laziness becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's one thing to point out the obvious, but that gets old and obvious pretty quickly. The screenplay by Michael Bacall (who also wrote the first film), Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rotham doesn't stop there; it doesn't just go for the easy laugh.  The screenwriters, along with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, are in it for the long haul—from the chief's speech to an end-credits sequence that imagines this series some 30 sequels into the future, with each successive one making a flimsier and more ridiculous excuse to get these two characters into the same shenanigans over and over again.

In between, the film has a tougher time maintaining the joke, but it only slightly matters. Hill and Tatum are very funny together (e.g., the opening scene, in which Schmidt disguises himself as a Hispanic gang member and Jenko tries and fails to play along) and funny enough on their own (e.g., Schmidt's take on slam poetry and Jenko's delayed, childlike reaction to discovering the identity of his partner's romantic interest), which is vital because the film's questioning of itself extends to the relationship between these characters.

Do they maintain the dynamic they had last time, or do they try something different? Their relationship is essentially the same, even as it appears to be different on the surface. One has a great time at college, and the other struggles to find his place. There's a rift, and every time they talk, it begins to sound like two people dealing with the aftereffects of a lovers' quarrel.

The screenplay is really having an open debate about the foundation of the sequel: theme and variation—how much to keep the same and to what degree to alter expectations. It has a lot of fun poking at other conventions, too. There's a red herring of a character who is literally stamped as one. Jenko starts a friendship with the school's star quarterback (Wyatt Russell) in a scene that amusingly devises a most torturous way to get the two to say the phrase that best describes the clichéd moment they are experiencing (It involves the combination of the meat on a sandwich and a certain brand of cotton swab). A chase scene has Schmidt and Jenko shunning their instincts by actively trying to avoid destruction, due to the department's unanticipated budget concerns.

22 Jump Street might not be as consistently funny as its predecessor, but it is twice as clever. In this age of obligatory sequels, it's nearly impossible not to admire one that has the gumption to so thoroughly deconstruct its creative elements and the behind-the-scenes scheming that has led to its creation. This one does so to a point that the film has effectively murdered any chance that a continuation of this franchise is even possible.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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