Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube
My rating: ★★★ stars
Likable, funny action-comedy provides an escapist diversion.
Color me surprised. I liked this film. Perhaps, my enjoyment was aided by having very low expectations, but the movie provides ample laughs without letting the humor be overwhelmed by the violence, as the first movie, 21 Jump Street, does.
After successfully bringing down a high school drug ring in the first film, police officers Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) go undercover to bring down a college drug ring. The film has a lot of fun with the notion that the case is essentially the same, just in college. Ice Cube returns as the officers’ captain along with Nick Offerman as the deputy chief of police.
Many of the jokes in 22 Jump Street are of the meta variety, commenting on the film, the performers, the nature of sequels, and the problems with reboots in general. Most of the time, this type of humor annoys me by being too self-consciously clever. In this case, the meta jokes worked for me because the filmmakers know that they aren’t clever. The filmmakers know how cheap and time-bound reflexive humor can be, and yet they revel in these jokes, which they let go on past the point of becoming unfunny until they’re funny again.
This is not a film for people who prefer their humor to be mature, witty, and clever. This film is unabashedly sophomoric, a description which should be quoted on the film’s DVD box because that’s exactly the tone the filmmakers were attempting to create. This film is charmingly unpretentious.
The movie is also relentlessly good natured. The characters are likeable, but, more importantly, the film focuses on their relationship, which can’t be described by any word less than “loving.” Unlike so many films that show a woman coming between the partners in a bromance, in this case, the interloper is another male. While Jenko and Schmidt have little in common, Jenko finds his soulmate, or maybe I should say “bro-mate” in frat boy quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell).
Although Jenko and Schmidt try to work together, they discover a sense of belonging among different groups—Jenko among the athletic frat boys and Schmidt among the art students and the geeks. We see much more of Jenko’s niche, and I think much of Schmidt’s storyline of investigating the outsiders must have been left on the cutting room floor, due to the high position of Craig Roberts, as one of the arty outsiders, in the credits, yet his having only one line and less than ten seconds of screen time.
Instead, Schmidt gets a subplot involving a romance with a young art student, Maya (Amber Stevens), who knew the victim of a drug-related death. This relationship leads to hilarious complications for Schmidt. Stevens isn’t given much to do, but Jillian Bell, as Maya’s creepy roommate, Mercedes, gives a standout, deadpan performance.
At the core of the film, however, is the relationship between the two cops. Although they struggle to reconcile their differences, we never doubt that they care about each other. What they have to learn over the course of the movie is that their differences complement each other and make them stronger rather than making them fundamentally incompatible, something they continuously fret over. The two stars create likeable, self-effacing characters. Too often, comedies today ask us to spend two hours with smug jerks; that’s not the case here. We want to root for Schmidt and Jenko, who, far from being smug, display an endearing struggle with insecurities.
In addition to humor, the film incorporates a number of action sequences, which look impressive without being too violent, a pitfall of action comedies today. None of the action is remotely believable with cartoonish stunts that wouldn’t be possible in real life. I can’t be too critical because the film never strives for verisimilitude. It’s outlandish, silly, and filled with implausible situations.
22 Jump Street is not a classic. I doubt it will stand the test of time. It’s simply two hours of escapist fun, with plenty of laughs and enthusiasm and an unexpected amount of heart.