When it was announced a couple of years ago that the TV series 21 Jump Street was going to be made into a movie, I’m almost positive that a collective sigh was uttered by just about anyone that knows anything about movies. I mean, we all know we’re living in the age of reboots, remakes, sequels, and franchises; but I don’t think anyone thought that a dated tv show from the 80s starring Johnny Depp would ever be referenced again, let alone be turned into a movie. Yet, in 2012 we were all pleasantly surprised that the new 21 Jump Street was such a breath of fresh air with it’s buddy cop premise and whip smart self referential humor.
Of course this wouldn’t be a true Hollywood moment if 21 Jump Street didn’t get a sequel. I mean, after all, it opened to critical acclaim and grossed a ton of money. Flash forward to today, and we have a sequel to a movie that not only pokes fun at itself and the genre, but it makes fun of Hollywood itself.
Right from the beginning we know that normal tv and movie conventions are going to be made fun of when the film begins with a standard tv open “Last time on 21 Jump Street . . .” and then proceeds to recap for us what happened in the last movie like a regular tv show would. While the recap isn’t so funny in and of itself, it is a signal from the directors that tell us “hey, we know what this sequel is, and we’re going to play with that expectation throughout the film.” From that moment on directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller not just return to some of the same comedic gags that made 21 Jump Street so fun; I almost want to say they turn the genre on its head and go full bore in making 22 Jump Street not just a continuation of the first film, but parody of epic proportions.
In an early scene of the film that setups Schmidt and Jenko’s new assignment, Captain Dickson (played by Ice Cube) not just lays out their assignment for them, but it also doubles as a jab at the hollywood studio system. Dickson outright tells Jenko and Schmidt that since they did so well on their first assignment, the department decided to upgrade their division and have Jenko and Schmidt go out for another assignment–in the same exact fashion. Dickson even explicitly states that they have “double the budget” for everything and tells the guys to “do the same exact thing as last time” to catch the drug dealer. If this isn’t making fun of the blueprint that Hollywood likes to follow for sequels these days then I don’t know what is.
Along the way the film takes shots at a lot of police, action, and buddy cop tropes as well. From Michael Bay’s signature ‘plane flying over Miami sign shot’ to a dig at John Woo’s doves, to the constant reference of the fact that this movie is a sequel; Miller and Lord pile on the satire and provide the film with so many high level laughs and references that it becomes to many to count after a while.
Meta jokes aside, on its surface 22 Jump Street does manage to pack in a lot of great humor. Playing on college stereotypes, relationship stereotypes between partners, sports stereotypes, and police stereotypes; a lot of the jokes are smart and funny, though sometimes not all of them land as well as they should.
As mentioned earlier the previous premise for the first film is recycled, though it’s given a good spin with the change of setting. Again though, it’s really the relationship between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s characters that provides a lot of the heart to the film. While we know Hill does comedy so well, again it’s Tatum that provides a lot of unexpected laughs.
While the first film looked at their partnership in terms of how much they needed each other, in 22 Jump Street we get to find out what happens when partners are together for too long. Do they rely on each other too much? Do they hold each other back? While Jenko and Schmidt go through similar arcs like they did in the first film, the circumstances this time around are different and provide enough differentiation that the trope of the ‘buddy cop comedy’ doesn’t get tired.
Finally, I’d be remiss if i didn’t talk about the closing credits of the film. There’s nothing spoilerish here, but the end credits basically call out studios for running amok with the sequel treatment for movies. In the same way 21 Jump Street ended with Captain Dickson giving Jenko and Schmidt their next assignment of going to college; this same scene is played out again, but taken to the Nth degree. This time around Captain Dickson continues to give assignment after assignment and each time title treatment is shown for the next sequel. After about 12 sequels were named, I stopped counting and just watched to enjoy the absurdity of creating more sequels. While I don’t think it would be impossible to make a 23 Jump Street, Miller and Lord pretty much set it up so that anyone that does will already be called out for trying to attempt something that is not original at all.
Overall I really enjoyed 22 Jump Street and while I loved all the high level references the film made, I don’t think everyone will get some of the humor that’s in the film. The conceit of rehashing the previous assignment also is a bit of a downer since we are covering familiar territory. However, I still believe 22 Jump Street is a hilarious movie that will make almost anyone laugh. As a follow up to its predecessor, I might even go so far as to say that this is one of those cases where the sequel is better than the original.
In a really great scene that showcases Channing Tatum’s comedic chops and intersects with the creative minds of the directors, Tatum’s character Jenko is about to come to grips with a major revelation that connects Schmidt and Captain Dickson. While the audience already knows what it is and as Schmidt and Dickson talk about it, Jenko takes a few seconds for all of this to sink in.
When the realization hits of course Jenko’s reaction is priceless. However, keep your ears open otherwise you’ll miss the small ding of a bell going off signaling the exact moment that the everything clicks. It’s such a subtle effect, but it’s really great because it literally puts us into the mind of Jenko. In the few seconds before the bell goes off we get the sense that Jenko hasn’t quite figured things out yet. When the bell goes off it illustrates for us the gears turning in his head and makes the scene a lot more humorous.
22 Jump Street is currently playing in theaters everywhere.
4 out of 5 stars // R // 1hr 52min