After 21 Jump Street was a very pleasant surprise (and a box-office hit) a couple of years ago, it stood to reason there would be a sequel. And sure enough, the increasingly prolific Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have trotted out a sequel where a few things have changed, and a lot of things have stayed the same (a running gag in the film), but apropos of 22 Jump Street one thing is very clear: it’s funny as hell. I mean, like, “missing big chunks of dialogue because everyone is laughing so hard” funny.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), after a drug bust gone wrong, are told to keep doing what they did before–the exact same thing–and so they are sent to college, ostensibly as brothers, to track down the source of a drug called Whyphy (pronounced “WiFi”). Schmidt falls in with the artistic crowd, forming a relationship with Maya (Amber Stevens), while Jenko becomes very close with a football player, Zook (Wyatt Russell), and ultimately ends up on the football team. A rift begins to develop between the two, compounded by their failure to make headway on the case. Everything is ultimately sorted out on spring break.
The plot really doesn’t matter all that much, which is both good and bad. Bad, in that…well, a half-assed plot is never really a good thing, even if your plot is deliberately half-assed (which, here, it kind of is). Good, however, in that it doesn’t get too much in the way of the laughs. And I tell you, there are a lot of them.
So much of the humor here comes from Hill and Tatum, as a team and individually. They both brought their A games here (especially Tatum), and their spirit and chemistry makes the film all the more entertaining.
Tatum in particular relishes not only Jenko’s dimness (and his frustrated awareness of it), but also choice moments like Jenko’s gleeful embrace of the awkward situation Schmidt finds himself in with Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube–more on him in a second). The specifics of the situation I won’t spoil, but Tatum’s wholehearted portrayal of childish, obnoxious glee is dead-on. He turns in some of the very best work I’ve ever seen from him, and it’d be a shame if the goofy context kept people from recognizing how accomplished a performance it really is.
Hill is also great, though Schmidt is stuck this time with a rather tiresome arc; as Jenko and Zook become ever more tied at the hip, he mopes and in general acts like he’s been dumped. The end result is that one feels a bit more sorry for Jenko, and Schmidt comes off as being rather selfish and self-pitying. Hill plays these parts as well as he can, but he’s at his best when trying to fake confidence and coolness, or when he finds himself confronted with an unworkably absurd situation–like having to fight a girl.
The supporting cast also does well: Ice Cube has even more to work with here, and one scene (involving the destruction of a brunch buffet) is nothing short of hysterical. Nick Offerman’s brief role as Deputy Chief Hardy is basically Ron Swanson in a uniform, but he gets his laughs. Amber Stevens, as Dickson’s daughter Maya, is charming but unfortunately the film gives her little to do; Hollywood is still dragging its feet in portraying interracial romance, and that one occurs here and is then basically dropped by the film is disappointing. Jillian Bell is a perfectly smug antagonist, even if her repeated jabs at Hill’s “aged” appearance wear a little thin.
Peter Stormare is underused as the drug lord Ghost (though he’s always welcome). Twin brothers Kenny & Keith Lucas are extremely entertaining as the Yang twins, whose propensity for thinking with one brain (and speaking with one tongue) is hysterical (“Jinxed it. Buy me a Coke in Heaven.”). Wyatt Russell is fine as Zook; he’s like Owen Wilson at his least annoying. Rob Riggle and Dave Franco meet cameos, and they’re both very funny as well, though their material comes dangerously close to (and some might say does) making light of prison…”relationships”, shall we say. For my money, they pull it off, but some may take exception.
Lord & Miller’s direction is energetic and the script (Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman) is packed with great lines. From the madcap chase sequences to the bizarre drug trip to the use of split-screen, it rockets along, allowing one to overlook the thinness of the plot and the occasional overused gag. And stay through the end credits; the list of proposed sequels alone requires it. There’s also a rather welcome sub-subplot where Jenko’s study of human sexuality enlightens him, leading to him to upbraid a villain for using a gay slur; it’s as hilarious as it is positive.
Honestly, if they’d tried a little harder with the story (yeah, I know the repetition is part of the joke, but still) and pared down a couple of the more drawn-out gags (the “old” gags really do get tedious), this might have edged into **** territory. But it’s still an utter blast, arguably the funniest film I’ve seen since Seven Psychopaths. Go see it. And see it with an audience.