By Chaz Lipp
The action-packed, high-speed chase, inking octopus opening of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 22 Jump Street is startlingly free of genuine laughs. Out on the docks chasing a group of drug dealers, everything is so pumped-up it feels like stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have been transplanted into a Lethal Weapon knock-off rather than a sequel to one of the funniest mainstream comedies in recent years. Turns out the sequence is one of the best gags of the entire movie, a deliberately overblown example of what not to do when you have a formula that works.
As Chief Deputy Hardy (Nick Offerman) explains, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are going to do nearly the exact same thing as before. This time it’s college they’ll be infiltrating undercover, not high school. “You look like you’re 50,” Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) tells Jenko. There’s another dangerous new drug circulating around campus, WhyPhy (pronounced WiFi, an acronym for “Work hard, yes. Play hard, yes.”), and it’s up to the odd couple of cops to find it. Completely aware of the general rule that comedy sequels always suck, the meta-jokes run rampant. For awhile, it’s more than enough to keep 22 gliding along comfortably. But around the half-way mark, this turns into exactly the kind of sequel the bombastic opening sequence suggested.
That’s too bad, because it basically sinks the concept. Initially everyone is intent on avoiding sequel-itis by subverting expectations and packing in winking meta-references right and left (Tatum’s White House Down is among the targets, while younger viewers may miss the goofs on Benny Hill, Annie Hall, and even N.W.A’s debut album). But as the plot’s gears begin to grind, the laughs slow to a crawl. It’s never less than mildly amusing, but 22 is unbalanced; detrimentally front-loaded.
Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had before it runs out of steam. Schmidt’s new love interest, Maya (Amber Stevens), turns out to have uncomfortably close ties with another cast member. Maya’s ultra-sarcastic roomie Mercedes (Jillian Bell, stealing all her scenes) constantly ribs Schmidt for looking too mature for college. And Jenko has sort of a love interest of his own in the form of Zook (Wyatt Russell), a balls-out football player with whom Jenko forms an unbeatable team. “It’s like we’re Batman and Robin,” Zook marvels about their on-field chemistry, “Only we’re both Batman.” This leads to some jealous-partner sulking on Schmidt’s part, especially when Jenko considers leaving the police department to accept a football scholarship. Their “couples therapy” sequence with the campus psychologist is a comic highpoint.
If you liked 21 Jump Street (and let’s be honest, would you even consider seeing 22 if you didn’t?), expect more of the same – just not as much.