Over the past couple of years Phil Lord & Christopher Miller‘s 21 Jump Street has become one of my favorite comedies. I can watch it any time, quote it, and find new things to love about it every time. It set a high bar for a sequel, and the bar gets even higher when you consider that comedy sequels rarely eclipse or even meet the quality of the original. Rather than strictly go by the rules of comedy sequels, Lord & Miller have once again done what they do best: play against expectations. Following Captain Dickson’s edict from the first film to “Embrace your stereotypes!”, 22 Jump Street happily acknowledges its sequel status, and tries to derive comedy from its trappings. Like the first movie, the sequel delivers plenty of laughs, brilliant jokes, weird moments, and excellent chemistry from stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum even if their characters’ relationship is strained a little too far and a little too reliant on gay jokes derived from their bromance.
After the Koreans bought their church back, Schmidt (Hill), Jenko (Tatum), Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), and the rest of their undercover unit have moved across the street to 22 Jump Street. This time around, Schmidt and Jenko are tasked with going to college to stop a new drug, “WhyPhy”, after a buyer is killed. Their relationship is tested when they fall back into their high school roles with Jenko finding popularity as a football jock and Schmidt falling in with the outsiders. Schmidt becomes particularly jealous as Jenko finds a kindred spirit in quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell), although the nerdy cop manages to find solace in his relationship with fellow student Maya (Amber Stevens).
Early in the picture, 22 Jump Street acknowledges and pokes fun at its sequel status, and skirts the edge of outright parody. Eventually, the sequel jokes settle down, and the movie begins to focus more on the college antics, although there are still references to the department’s (i.e. the studio’s) “budget” and what they can and cannot do. The original also had references such as Deputy Chief Hardy’s (Nick Offerman) speech about reviving a canceled undercover program plus the cameos near the end, but 22 Jump Street goes far beyond these self-aware little notes. Thankfully, these acknowledgements never take us out of the movie because Lord & Miller are so confident in their approach.
Even though 22 Jump Street is live-action, Lord & Miller, who also directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The LEGO Movie, consistently take advantage of cartoony ideas when it suits the story. They did this in the first film when Jenko fills a whiteboard with the number “4” and later when a truck full of chickens explodes after more combustible items failed to ignite. 22 Jump Street continues to stretch the bounds of reality, and it provides the leeway to drop in jokes that may have felt out of place in a straight comedy.
The movie is always eager to branch out to other comic approaches, so the picture rarely feels stagnant. The characters are well-established at this point, and Hill and Tatum’s chemistry is even better. They bounce off each other perfectly, and while we expect Hill to be funny, he’s almost eclipsed by Tatum, whose growth as an actor continues to impress. However, both are rivaled by scene stealers Ice Cube and new cast member Jillian Bell, who plays Maya’s roommate and constantly lobs comic insults at Schmidt for looking way older than nineteen.
The comic variety is refreshing and keeps us on our toes, but the heart of the picture is the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko, and this is where the movie has to lean heavily on the “We know we’re doing the same thing because that’s how sequels work” bit. Nevertheless, Hill and Tatum are so good together that the movie feels somewhat diminished by tearing them apart, especially when you consider that it’s the same conflict from the first movie but more of it. This leads to the film relying heavily on the tedious trope of a bromance verging on the openly homosexual. In a movie as fantastic as 22 Jump Street, it’s a bit of a drag to see so many jokes rely on two straight guys talking in gay innuendo, a joke that’s already been beaten to death in other movies.
It’s also unworthy of a movie that’s as funny and creative as 22 Jump Street. This is a comedy where I was laughing so hard that I know I missed jokes while I was doubled-over in my seat. Although Neighbors hits its themes harder (22 Jump Street‘s loose message is a warning against the dangers of having too much of the same thing), there’s nothing I can do about Lord & Miller being on my comic wavelength. I adore every one of their movies. They’re surprising, clever, weird, and while I could say their movies are far better than they have any right to be, the filmmakers have earned that right by succeeding again and again. 22 Jump Street shows that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Instead, admire your handiwork and brag.