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Chris Miller and Phil Lord team up once again, with the same dynamism of their two undercover characters, to bring us the most entertaining sequel to a rebooted 80’s television show ever conceived. In what is perhaps the most self-referential film of 2014, 22 Jump Street recognizes the absurdity of its predecessor’s success, and seems to be partially comprised of a transcribed recording of a writer’s room meeting. Bringing back most of the talent from the first film, and adding plenty of fresh, and hilarious blood, 22 Jump Street was an incredible success with its target audience and skeptics alike.
22 Jump Street begins with an epic montage of equipment flashing and one hell of an undercover sting. After a crushing defeat, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are given a lecture by the Deputy Chief (hilarious cameo by Nick Offerman) who lays down the plot for the rest of the film. Complete with double talk, Deputy Chief Hardy mentions the runaway success of the first mission (film), and their new carte-blanche budget for their upcoming mission (film). Schmidt and Jenko proceed to go undercover as two college freshmen to stop a drug that is the culmination of college angst – Adderall mixed with ecstasy mixed with “god knows what else” to form WHYPHY (Work Hard Yes, Play Hard Yes; pronounced Wi-Fi).
The rest of the film follows the layout previously described by the Deputy Chief and, to be honest, has no real bearing on the entertainment factor of the film. Jokes become re-worked, and played out, although very few actually become stale. There are surprises, too, and some delightful segments that seem straight out of a standard comedy’s “line-o-rama” special feature. Great improvisational performances by talented comedians Jillian Bell and the Lucas Brothers bolster the film, and help many of the jokes land more solidly. Going along with the constant destruction of the fourth wall, 22 Jump Street constantly pokes fun at itself, and that is where the film derives most of its humor. Hinting at a subsequent movie, and at their diminishing budget, the film’s writing staff (Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman, Michael Bacall, and Jonah Hill) acknowledge that they must adapt to keep the audience’s attention, and do not pander or demean via dumbed-down jokes or cliché humor. As opposed to action, in a comedy, one cannot simply assuage the audience with explosions or car chases (not that there aren’t a plenty of those here) and forget about the characters or plot (or both). 22 Jump Street knows exactly what it is, and it never tries to be something that it is not.
The undeniable chemistry between Tatum and Hill is a major boost for the film’s overall appeal. Their witty banter and comfort around one another is clearly evident, and with back-stories such as THIS, and THIS, the pair seem like old friends. There are, of course, some new characters thrown in to introduce tension in Schmidt and Jenko’s relationship, and they (Wyatt Russell as Zook and Amber Stevens as Maya) play their parts strongly, although neither bring any real sense of character or humor to the plot. Jillian Bell and The Lucas Brothers (Kenneth and Keith) really steal the show as secondary characters. Jillian Bell is hysterically funny as Schmidt’s love interest’s sarcastic roommate, delivering joke after joke about Schmidt’s “decrepit” appearance.
While 22 Jump Street will not provide an engaging plot or an elaborate heist, it is an endlessly entertaining film for fans of 21 Jump Street. Never pretending to be something that it isn’t, and not, for one moment, concerned with being even the slightest bit serious, 22 Jump Street is a refreshing comedy sequel – handled perfectly by its writers and directors. By focusing itself on absurdity and forgetting elaborate set-pieces and punch-line comedy, 22 Jump Street is a wholly entertaining and completely surprising joy.