'22 Jump Street' bromance takes amusing leap backward
The guys in 22 Jump Street spend much of their time caught in a bad bromance.
Which is not to imply that the sequel to 21 Jump Street is unsatisfying. In fact it's often hilariously funny (* * * out of four; rated R; opening Thursday in some theaters and Friday nationwide). Their bond, however, goes sour for at least half the movie which takes them through nasty bickering, couples counseling and an eventual rift. An undeniably zany re-boot, the surprising freshness of its predecessor is lacking, however, as is often the way of sequels.
The self-referential movie is exceedingly aware of its inherent lack of originality, and that knowledge makes for some of the movie's best jokes. If this all sounds strangely circular, that's because this is the ultimate meta movie. The repetition is exactly the point.
22 is a smart and appealing comedy, powered by the winning chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and cleverly directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.
Deft physical comedians with spot-on timing, Hill and Tatum reprise their odd-couple roles from the 2012 original. The inevitability of sequels after a box office success is essentially the joke here. While the plot is not as taut as the first movie's, the audience's familiarity with the concept will smooth over the rough spots. Basically, it's just fun to watch these guys spar, bumble and endure what amounts to an awkward break-up.
And, as in most movie break-ups, we know they'll reunite, their commitment re-upped. In this way, it mocks the conventions of romantic comedies, as well as action films.
In a minimalist, redundant plot, undercover cops Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) again play brothers, this time posing as college students to bust up another shady drug ring. Where the first film offered a clever commentary on PC high school values, subverting expectations, this one merely satirizes college clichés. Jenko bonds with football star/frat bigwig Zook (Wyatt Russell) and Schmidt connects with art student Maya (Amber Stevens).
The car chases are unremarkable, but the stunts — which comically juxtapose Tatum's athletic grace and Hill's stocky clumsiness — are a hoot. The focus is trained more tightly on the lead characters than in the first film, which featured a broader ensemble. Here, outside characters are merely foils for Jenko and Schmidt, with the possible exception of a very funny Jillian Bell as a college student who continually and dryly mocks Schmidt's middle-aged appearance. (In 21 it was Jenko's mature look that served as the recurring joke.)
The through line is the inherently lame nature of sequels. That notion comes to a raucous climax as the credits roll, featuring a mocking litany of future installments. The franchise possibilities are seemingly endless, put forth in fast and furious fashion. The montage includes: 23 Jump Street: Medical School, through Culinary School, Traffic School, Beauty School and on to Jump 4 Ever: The Animated TV series and finally Jump Street: Retirement Home. It makes for the funniest closing credit sequence since 2008's Tropic Thunder.
The homoerotic aspects of their partnership are mined to greater comic effect this time around. And, really who of any persuasion could resist the endearing puppy-dog quality of Tatum's Jenko?
Even more than absurdist genre parody, 22 Jump Street is all about clownish male bonding and Hill and Tatum's pairing is as ludicrously inspired as they come. So, bring on the parade of sequels.