A film based on a television series from the 1980s starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum seemed like a surefire way for a Hollywood executive to lose their job. Instead, 21 Jump Street hit all the right notes and became a genuine success. And these days, any successful film is ripe to have a sequel. So, is 22 Jump Street able to recapture the magic of its predecessor? The answer is a hesitant yes. While Hill and Tatum still have their chemistry, the film too often sacrifices story and character for the quick joke. Luckily, those jokes are almost always hilarious.
Already set up at the end of 21 Jump Street, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are sent to college by Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), in essentially the same set-up as the first — “infiltrate the dealers and find the supplier.” At times, the film’s self-awareness tends to go overboard, if only because it doesn’t often lead to anything more, as it did in the first one. But, as expected, their college antics don’t disappoint. Like their time in “high school,” they find themselves taking on different leads, and drifting apart, in order to find the supplier of new drug “WHYPHY.” Schmidt cozy’s up with their victim’s old roommate Maya (Amber Stevens), while Jenko finds a blood brother in frat boy and fellow football team member Zook (Wyatt Russell).
The only real problem with the movie is that it tends to steer away from its plot, instead focusing on the relationship of Schmidt and Jenko. The film’s obvious thread is the case, and it sometimes has problems reconciling the two. What made the first film so refreshing was that it was not only funny — really funny — but that it was obvious everyone involved actually cared about crafting something worthwhile. The movie jokes that sequels always need to go bigger, and while that’s a joke in itself, it, unfortunately, isn’t always able to steer away from its own warning. Everything is notched up and it’s often at the expense of the humanity that the first one did well.
If this sounds overly harsh, it’s not meant to be. If, anything, it’s actually a worthy sequel in a Hollywood system hellbent on dragging everything out long past it’s natural conclusion. It’s just that it doesn’t do anything better — or different — than 21 Jump Street. But, if it doesn’t get quite near the highs of that flick, it gets pretty close.
Jillian Bell plays Maya’s new roommate, and is definitely the bright spot of the film. Her deadpan quips about Schmidt’s obvious resemblance of someone much too old for college life are highlights and, if anything, she’s actually underused. The rest of the cast is similarly on form, including Wyatt Russell as Jenko’s meathead friend. The two seem to share a telepathic communication for “bro-ing out,” much to the chagrin of Schmidt. The Lucas Brothers provide a comic foil for the “familial” relationship Schmidt and Jenko are supposed to have.
It may not surpass the address that came before it, but 22 Jump Street is surprisingly entertaining. As the sequel to a film that, itself, seemed to have no hope on paper, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller prove that they actually knew what they were doing the first time around. If the film can be a bit too tongue-in-cheek at times, and goes too easily for the quick joke, it’s only a small detriment to the final product.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5