BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
A little over two years ago, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller took television drama “21 Jump Street” and adapted it into a comedy film. It seemed like an unusual thing to do, but the bold experiment resulted in the film becoming a box-office hit and one of the best comedies of 2012. With the sharp humor and natural energy that flew between the well-matched stars, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the film was a lot funnier than expected.
While we’ve had many bad sequels to hit comedies that failed to live up to their originals, “22 Jump Street” succeeds in continuing the story of young cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum). Although it doesn’t quite top the original, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have delivered something rare: a good comedy sequel.
After some successful case-solving in the Jump Street program, Schmidt and Jenko are patrolling the streets and cracking down on crime. Following a failed attempt at arresting a group of drug dealers, they’re brought back to Jump Street and assigned a new task by their boss, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). He informs the two about the death of a student at a local college due to a new drug called WHYPHY (pronounced the same as “WiFi”), and the duo must enroll as students and find out the identities of the dealers and supplier. While there, Schmidt and Jenko’s involvements with different on-campus groups will cause them to question if they are holding each other back, and whether or not they should pursue their individual interests.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return with every bit of the bromance connection they expressed in the first film, if not more. Hill continues to savor his character’s memorable and desperate awkwardness, particularly in a scene during a poetry slam, in which he has to come up with a poem on the spot. As far as Tatum goes, he nails his character’s simplemindedness, and just like in the first film, it’s not the lazy, stereotypical dunce-jock stupidity. Instead, this personality trait is downplayed with smart, little jokes here and there that give us an understanding of his comical, cranial emptiness.
They’re so immersed in the verbal interactions and visual gags they share, that you almost wish they would do many more “Jump Street” films (you can get a taste of what that would be like during the very creative end credits), but at the same time, it would be awful to spoil what’s already an outstandingly funny cinematic pairing.
There’s a recurring theme in the movie about things being in balance with one another, and that’s what Hill and Tatum are. They support one another in their scenes and respond well to each other, making their time on screen together endlessly entertaining and a constant example of how efficient they are in making their characters’ friendship believable.
Ice Cube makes a hysterical return as the short-tempered captain of the Jump Street program. He truly makes the most out of every scene he’s in, and is one of the funniest parts of the movie.
The screenplay by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman finds its strength in not trying to create a sequel that tries to outdo the original in the joke department. Although the story provides us with a decent amount of jokes, it also engages to be more of an exploration of Schmidt and Jenko’s friendship and how it develops in their new college environment, where Schmidt is determined to work on their case, while Jenko is distracted by reveling in the joy of the acceptance of his peers and success on the school’s football team.
The screenplay also changes around how the two characters assimilate in college because, in the first film, it’s Schmidt who’s seen as the more popular of the two. This time around, it’s Jenko who’s getting all of the attention from students, so it was interesting to watch how this switch in popularity would impact their friendship.
I was worried at first that the film was going to head in the same direction as “The Hangover – Part II,” in that it has a different location, but a similar story. While that may be the case, the jokes and dialogue are clever enough that you can forgive the familiarity, seeing as part of what makes the movie work is how self-aware it is about being identical to the original.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are two highly talented comedic filmmakers, and it’s evident that these directors, Hill and Tatum work very well together. Lord and Miller had a hit with “The Lego Movie” back in February, which, in my opinion, is one of the best films of the year, so far. Now, they’ve delivered a surprisingly acceptable sequel in film comedy, a genre that doesn’t have a whole lot of worthy second installments. Given how intelligent and comical the story material is, they’re able to get committed performances out of their cast that help make this sequel a lot better than it could have been. They know how to treat audiences and bring well-written humor to the screen, rather than settle for what’s easy.
As seen in “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street,” this directing duo can also craft enjoyably frenetic action sequences, and that ability carries over to this film, particularly during the climactic spring-break chase scene.
With “22 Jump Street,” we are given a sequel that actually has some thought put into it, instead of one that’s released solely to make a quick buck off the success of its original. As far as comedic sequels go, this one certainly makes the dean’s list.
Final grade: B+