If a cinematic reboot of a semi-popular 1980’s TV show seems like a bad idea, then a sequel to said reboot is surely even more so. But when that reboot was as clever and well received as 21 Jump Street was, and when the two visionaries behind that project are back behind the camera it is almost a no-brainer. 2012’s 21 Jump Street came out of nowhere to steal the summer and earn $201m worldwide, and catapulted directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller into the mainstream consciousness. With The Lego Movie cementing their status they return, armed with more of Sony’s money, with 22 Jump Street. Can bigger equal better?
Stars of the original Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, returns as Officers Schmidt and Jenko. Fresh from a career making bust the mismatched pairing are back on regular police work, attempting to infiltrate a gang shipping “something” into their fine city. When a bust goes horribly, spectacularly wrong they find themselves sent back to Jump Street to, as their Sergeant tells them, “do exactly the same thing that they did before”. Only this time they’re going to college!
You can have the best setup, the best jokes and the best direction that money can buy, but if your main pairing doesn’t work then all is for naught. Thankfully the best thing about 21 Jump Street, Hill and Tatum’s easy chemistry, is still intact and the central pair make you buy into their relationship. Theirs is a complicated and emotional relationship and Hill and Tatum play it to a tee. Hill was a known comedic quantity, but doubts surrounded Tatum in the run-up to 21 Jump Street. These he blew out of the water with a knowing wink and a slapstick ease that showed a range previously unknown. Here again he is superb, a man-child with supreme physicality and a willingness to just go for the big joke and the big laugh. Hill is more reserved, getting the more tender, quieter role. 21 Jump Street saw a role reversal with Hill the popular high-schooler and Tatum the outsider, while this time around things return to convention with Hill the unpopular nerd and Tatum the popular jock. This works as Tatum’s character has learned from the original and brings that to bear on what would otherwise be a very one-dimensional character. While this truly is the Hill and Tatum show some of the support characters manage to make an impression. Ice Cube returns as the angry Police captain and gets one of the stand out scenes, as well as some of the best lines in the film. Yes it’s generic, but when he’s chewing the scenery like this you will not care one bit. Amber Stevens is sweet and lovely as Maya and has a nice rapport with Hill. She’s never fully developed but her back story is extremely memorable. It is Jillian Bell as Maya’s roommate Mercedes that almost steals the show from the boys, with a running joke that never outstays its welcome, and a superb “fight” scene with Hill late in the film. Still as good as she is it’s Hill and Tatum that you’ll remember.
22 Jump Street is a film that is acutely aware of what it is and references that fact at almost every possibility. Sometimes self-awareness can seem self-indulgent but here it works as the goofy, good-natured humour holds the whole thing together. Lord and Miller are at the top of their game right now and manage to give more of the same without it feeling like they’re treading water. Every college cliché is up here and every one is satirised in some way that brings a new twist to an old formula. The walk of shame in particular is brilliantly executed. Credit for this must go to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman who craft brilliant lines to suit the lunk-headed Jenko or naive Schmidt. However it is not all rosy in the garden as despite the honed lines and the perfectly-pitched self-awareness the film goes too big towards the end in a mad rush to bring the central plot to a satisfying resolution. Humour gives way to action and no matter how good the explosions and chases they cannot match the freeway scene from the original. A tighter hand in the editing suite could have brought this down by 10 minutes and left us with a modern classic.
Bigger, bolder, brasher but with the same warmth and heart of the first, 22 Jump Street is the best comedy of the summer and a great way to spend a wet weekend. Make sure to stay for the closing credits as they are perhaps the real highlight of the entire show.