22 Jump Street

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/12/14 22:50:33

2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

As someone who has seen more than his fair share of movie sequels over the years, I can state with no small amount of confidence that most of them suck runny eggs--both as individual cinematic entities and as continuations of their predecessors--and even fewer have managed to pull off the trick of improving on the originals. One rare film that managed to do just that was "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," Joe Dante's brilliant 1990 followup to his surprise 1984 horror-comedy breakthrough "Gremlins." Having failed to come up with a plausible continuation to the story on their own but not wanting to leave money on the table, the brass at Warner Brothers reportedly told Dante that he could do pretty much anything he wanted as long as there were Gremlins in it. Instead of merely doing a minor variation of the original, which Warners probably would have been completely happy with, Dante and screenwriter Charlie Haas came up with a freewheeling farce that was in no small part a joke on the very nature of sequels in general and the very idea of a "Gremlins" continuation in the first place. Although his approach was no doubt a key reason as to why the film failed to find an audience when it opened, its observations are as pertinent and funny today as they were back then and while the film will probably never have the cachet of the original, it has happily begun to develop cult following from a media-saturated generation that is more clearly on its peculiar wavelength than people were back in the day.

At this point, some of you may be wondering why I am waxing ecstatic about a 24-year-old movie when the subject at hand is supposed to be "22 Jump Street," the sequel to the surprisingly popular 2012 film that took a dopey 80's-era cop show with little to its name other than the risible premise (baby-faced cops going undercover in high schools to ferret out crime) and the fact that its lead would go on to become one of the biggest stars in the world and played it for laughs instead of thrills. Well, for one thing, I adore "Gremlins 2" and will take any opportunity to sing its praises whenever possible. The major reason, however, is that the people behind "22 Jump Street" have taken a page out of Dante's playbook by offering up a sequel in which the ridiculousness of making a followup to "21 Jump Street" is the central joke driving the whole enterprise. The difference between the two is that while "Gremlins 2" took that conceit and ran with it funny and surprising ways, the makers of "22 Jump Street" fail in the execution and end result is a shambling in-joke that is never quite as funny or as original as those involved seem to think it is.

As the film opens (following a "Previously on. . ." recap of the first installment), Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are working undercover to bring down a drug kingpin known as The Ghost (Peter Stormare) but when they bollix it up, their superior (the invaluable Nick Offerman) decides that they should just do what worked before and sticks them back into the Jump Street program, which has received a massive influx of funds and technological doodads thanks to the resounding success of their first adventure. Since they are now far too old to plausibly pose as high schoolers, their new target is a local college that is being overrun with WhyPhy, a new drug that essentially combines the key aspects of Adderall and Ecstasy and which has already been linked to the death of one student. Posing once again as brothers, Schmidt and Jenko are to infiltrate the campus, get a lead on the supplier and bring them down without arousing suspicion.

You will recall that the last time around, former outcast Schmidt found himself unexpectedly blossoming in his second high school go-around while macho man Jenko found himself on the outside of a world where the jocks no longer necessarily ruled the roost. Jenko is naturally worried that this will happen again but quickly gets his BMOC status returned when he joins the football and finds an instant best buddy in quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell)--this will inspire complications down the road when it appears that Zook may be involved with the WhyPhy ring. Feeling left out, Schmidt drifts over to the school's art scene and quickly falls in with Maya (Amber Stevens), who lived in the same dorm as the dead girl and who now rooms with the corpse's former roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell). As a result, the once-inseparable partners now find themselves beginning to drift apart and wondering whether they are better off on their own after all. However, they are nothing if not efficient and while doing all of this soul-searching, they still manage to squeeze in the requisite amount of shootouts and car chases into the proceedings as well.

"22 Jump Street" suffers from the same basic problem as the first film--it can't decide whether it wants to be an over-the-top action-comedy or a spoof of over-the-top action comedies and the clash of the two opposing attitudes results in an inconsistent mess--if these films have done nothing else, they have proven definitively that there is scant difference between a straightforward stupid car chase and an ironic stupid car chase. To be fair, "21 Jump Street" did have a few compensating factors--a few funny jokes scattered throughout (including one of the more hilarious surprise cameos in recent memory), the surprisingly effective comedic chemistry between the two stars that shone through even during the weaker moments and a nice performance from a pre-"Short Term 12" Brie Larson that showed that she had strong comic timing and was clearly destined for better things. This time around, there are still a couple of funny jokes scattered throughout that I confess made me laugh out loud (pay attention to the name of the film school building during the campus car chase) and Hill & Tatum still play well together (Tatum once again demonstrates a surprisingly deft comedic touch here that is undeniably winning and which even leaves the more comedically oriented Hill in the dust at times). However, even by dumb action-comedy standards, the proceedings here are especially lame and contrived--would you believe that Schmidt's campus hookup turns out to be none other than the daughter of his hot-headed superior (Ice Cube)?--and just doesn't go anywhere. I must also confess to a little bit of bitterness that that couldn't bring Larson back for even a cameo--after all, if they are going to go to the trouble to drag the staggeringly unfunny Rob Riggle and Dave Franco in to reprise their characters from the original, why couldn't they shoehorn her in as well?

The only real difference this time around (save for the blessed lack of punchlines involving closeups of people getting shot in the genitals) is the meta-movie concept and even that gets kind of tiresome after a while. Some of the self-referential bits early on are amusing but unlike "Gremlins 2"--in which Joe Dante used such jokes as a way of commenting on a film industry that was already shifting in ways that would eventually prove detrimental to his career--they soon become as toothless and inane as everything else. Put it this way--I might have laughed a little more during the end credit sequence featuring a variety of alleged sequel ideas if I didn't have the sneaky suspicion that Sony already had three or four of these so-called jokes in some actual for of development. This is even more of a shame when you consider that the film was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who did do the original film but who also directed "The Lego Movie," a film that deftly worked both as a legitimate movie about the adventures of plastic building bricks and as a goof on the very notion of making such a thing in the first place. "22 Jump Street" may technically be the more adult film of the two but I promise you that "The Lego Movie" is infinitely more intelligent and more dramatically plausible to boot.

"22 Jump Street" is not a particularly good movie but it did make me laugh a few times and compared to such recent monstrosities as "Blended" and "A Million Ways to Die in the West," it might almost come across as tolerable. However, the very second that one puts it up against a real comedy, whatever minor qualities it may maintain simply waft away. By a happy coincidence, there are two comedies on the horizon that fit that particular bill--"The Obvious Child" (which opens this week) and "They Came Together" (which comes out a week later). These are two films whose combine total budget might equal maybe a week's budget on the bigger "22 Jump Street" but what they may lack in hype and lavish expenditures, it makes up for with genuine hilarity--something that counts for a lot more than mere money when it comes to comedy. If you want to really laugh, seek out one or both of them and you will be smiling from sheer delight for days afterwards. By comparison, you may occasionally laugh or smilie during "22 Jump Street" but unless you have a photographic memory, there is a very good chance that you will not remember what it was that you found funny long before the end credits kick in.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.