Coming off of a surprisingly great film, The Lego Movie, that was funny, thought provoking, and one of the most imaginative films since Toy Story, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller go back to live action with a sequel to their 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street. All of the characters are back and the movie picks up right where it left off in terms of tone. However, the opening scene also lets the audience know that this is going to be a film that understands that sequels are meant to be big budget with bigger set pieces and more explosions. Not only do the writers set this idea up with dialogue between the characters early, they deliver with genuinely cool action scenes that could be in an action movie sequel.
The premise is that Schmidt (played by Jonah Hill) and Jenko (played by Channing Tatum) screw up so badly that they are sent down to Jump Street again. This time, the headquarters are across the street where Ice Cube’s character, Captain Dickson, awaits in a much fancier building. In fact, it’s so fancy that Schmidt is quick to note, “Wow, Dickson’s office looks like a cube of ice.” Wink, wink. The assignment that they are given is comically identical to the one they had in 21 Jump Street. An illegal drug is being spread across a school campus and they are going undercover at the school to find the supplier. The only difference is that this time they are going to a college campus. This is a prime example of turning up the stakes a bit for a sequel and the film knows it.
The beauty of 22 Jump Street and the reason why I think it works better than its predecessor is that it focuses more on the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko than the investigation itself. Hill and Tatum are a terrific duo and have great comedic chemistry and it was a brilliant choice by the writers and directors to have that highlighted and challenged throughout the film. They also flip the roles that Schmidt and Jenko play in the original a bit. If you remember, Schmidt was the nerd in police academy and Jenko the jock, however in high school, it turned out that being nerdy was kind of cool and being a dumb jock with a letter jacket was no longer the only way to get the girl. This time, Jenko fits in at college the entire time and Schmidt has a hard time finding a niche. While I found this logic a bit flawed because, in college, everyone can find a place in the small society, it was a bold and interesting choice.
The film and performances are very funny. I particularly highlight Tatum and Ice Cube, if only because Hill has shown his ability to be funny before if given the right material and he has some great lines here and delivers a great performance. However, Tatum is showing tremendous range as an actor and is slowly putting together a solid body of work. Meanwhile, Ice Cube steals the show in a few scenes including one that almost brought the house down in my screening. It’s hard to beat the quality of 22 Jump Street when it comes to comedy sequels. It changes things up enough to be different and engaging, however, it follows the beat of the same drum that made the first movie so successful with audiences and critics alike. I have no doubt that plans are in the works to make 23 Jump Street if Lord and Miller desire. If I were Hill and Tatum, I would continue as well because the characters are so complex and interesting that there are still more stories and still more places these two terrible police officers could go and continue to make us laugh.
Grade = A-