Thank Michael Bay for single-handedly ruining the cop action genre in 2003. His Bad Boys II, a hateful, misogynistic small-dick view of the world blockbuster was so childishly, irresponsibly over-the-top that it only made sense for police movies to retreat into the realm of comedy. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence destroying whole villages with Hummers while punchlining their way to a two-and-a-half hour mark was probably rock-bottom. How could we take that genre seriously anymore?
That’s why it’s a great pleasure to say 22 Jump Street is a damned funny jest at the expense of not only the buddy cop genre, but sequels, franchises, and big-budget entertainment at large – while somehow sneaking a weird heart into the proceedings.
Yes, Edgar Wright’s kinetic Hot Fuzz will probably always be the ultimate cop lampoon (“Point Break or Bad Boys II?”). Its British flights of fancy and high frequency gag-making have made it the chief of police parody over the last decade. Yet 22 Jump Street puts its hat in the ring as a super fun, geeky statement on police actioners and franchises in general. It’s a top-notch comedy that goes for big laughs and earns them.
It also wisely distinguishes itself as more than a straight goof – it’s a buddy cop movie that actually could function alone as a dizzy action movie, and a weirdly sweet bromance. Taking all that into consideration, this is as good as Lethal Weapon 2. Really.
With the combined strength of its leads and directors, 22 Jump Street isn’t afraid to go all over the place at breathtaking speed. Sure, it misses at points, but when the jokes hit, they practically explode. This is wittier, more heartfelt, and more aware than a June release deserves to be.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were pretending to be high schoolers in an attempt to bust a student drug ring two years ago. Since then, they were promoted to undercover, which as evidenced by a hugely botched drug deal at the local docks (an octopus attacks Schmidt, they forget their terrible Mexican accents), the two are told to do the same thing as last time. Deputy Hardy (Nick Offerman) tells the duo that their new capers aren’t working. Jenko and Schmidt need to do what they did the last time, which is go undercover, and everybody will be happy. In fact, Hardy doubles their budget, which Jenko and Schmidt scoff at, as if it will bring greater returns in their crime-busting. Nice play on sequels, guys.
The dudes enroll in a local university, and at times it’s literally, annoyingly the same as the last film. Yet, despite the leads mocking the commercial needs of the whole shebang, somehow this movie has greater returns. The jokes are bolder, more extreme. Hill will say quite possibly anything to get a laugh, and he can get one. Just sit back and enjoy his slam poetry and/or his fear of his boss (Ice Cube). Tatum, on the other hand, knows that he can be a himbo to great effect. There’s something about a grown man saying “f*ck you, brain” in frustration with his own stupidity that feels Homer Simpson-esque. Schmidt and Jenko are so much more engaging this time. The two have an abiding love for each other with mockingly overt homoerotic subtext. It’s cheap, and an easy riff on the buddy genre, but every so often we see their deep friendship emerge. It’s just lucky chemistry with Hill and Tatum. Maybe these guys could be Riggs and Murtaugh for Millennials, and the older folks that liked them.
Newly minted directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) have such a spastic body of work by now, yet these two can keep a movie together amidst high and lowbrow moves. For every joke that flops, or perfunctory action sequence, there are a dozen other great ideas. Consider an Annie Hall reference that works as a nod to recapturing old magic in a sequel, but also as a love letter to Woody Allen. Stick around for the cameos and brilliant end credits that summarize the business this movie’s in. 22 Jump Street works so hard to earn its action comedy badge.
2012’s 21 Jump Street was a clever, knowing surprise. It was a low-budget, high-energy riff on TV to movie adaptations and the popularity of nostalgia properties hijacking multiplexes. 22 Jump Street is a shockingly superior film that capitalizes on its predecessor’s model while maturing into itself as a likeable, lead-driven franchise.