“It’s always worse the second time around.” So begins Deputy Chief Hardy as he sits 21 Jump Street heroes Schmidt and Jenko down at the beginning of the franchise’s latest instalment and outlines a plot almost identical to that of the first film.
Once again, the premise is simple: Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as Schmidt and Jenko, the dysfunctional buddy-cop partnership who went undercover as high school students in the first film. Moving across Jump Street into a new headquarters at number 22, this time they are sent undercover as college students to investigate the hilariously-named drug WHYPHY (“Work Hard Yes, Play Hard Yes”). Ice Cube also makes a comeback as Captain Dickson, the duo’s supervisor. With all the old elements in place that made 21 Jump Street great, the bromance begins again, set to a bromantic Diplo soundtrack yet with some nicely-observed classic elements of college life thrown in: the walks of shame, the “inspiring” but actually slightly embarrassing professors with just a little too much passion for teaching, the awkward meetings of parents at the end of term.
From the outset, though, the action is underwhelming and juvenile, not funny, whilst the film’s attempts at emotional resonance are even more cringeworthy. Both characters go through laughable identity crises, which are both stupid and wholly unbelievable, in particular Schmidt’s as a sensitive art student. Tatum can pull off pretending to be a football jock in his sleep, but Jonah Hill, world expert on dick jokes and underage drinking, feeling an affinity for Picasso? It’s absurd. Channing Tatum has proven by now that he can act, at least a bit, and he brings a certain endearing earnestness to his performance. Hill, by contrast, plays himself in the same way he has for every role since Superbad. None of this is a huge surprise.
What is pleasantly fresh is the fact that whilst the action isn’t great, the self-aware banter is. At every moment, the convenience of the circumstances that allow for an identical Jump Street sequel are sent up, to the extent that as they move across the road to the new HQ (this time a disused Vietnamese rather than Korean church), luxury apartments are being built at 23 Jump Street: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves”, Ice Cube warns. Simply put, it’s clever. The film avoids the pitfalls of making a sequel by very explicitly drawing the viewer’s attention to them. There are nods to the previous movie, too, but these enhance 22 for viewers of 21 whilst avoiding making it an in-joke that excludes newcomers.
By not taking itself too seriously, 22 Jump Street gets away with typically risqué humour and dumb slapstick action sequences. It pillories itself even into its end credits, briefly swapping Jonah Hill for Seth Rogen with no explanation. It’s fun, and doesn’t pretend to be anything more. One scene where Schmidt and Jenko trip on WHYPHY shouldn’t appeal to anyone over 13, but is somehow hilarious. In another, Jenko “breaks up” with the clingy Schmidt, telling him “I just think we should investigate other people for a while.” It is a perfect example of the film failing to manage an emotional moment between two fairly cardboard characters, but making up for it through comedy.
In all, the best of 22 Jump Street is vastly entertaining whilst the worst is dire, meaning the whole affair manages to be simultaneously dumb and clever. Yes, it has major flaws, but as one of the most self-aware Hollywood movies since the likes of Zombieland and Kick-Ass, it will appeal to film nerds and action movie junkies alike.