3 1/2 Stars22 Jump Street is the improbable comedy sequel that bests the original, while repeating a lot of the same joke-albit with minor twists-while reaping bigger laughs from similar territory. The odd-ball pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum works even better this time out. An established repore between the two lets them rip loose with insults and comedic riffs right away. As the film itself is quick and often to point out, this time around everything has to be the same, but bigger. Somehow they pulled off the feat of feeling fresh while rehashing the exact same thing.
The hero cops of the 21 Jump Street project Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), have been assigned to an identical mission after screwing up a drug bust in the film’s opening scene. The lovable losers are the key to the charm of the series, Schmidt is affable, Jenko is idiotic. This time instead of attending high school, the duo is sent to a State University to infiltrate a drug ring that has already claimed the life of one student. While undercover, Jenko falls in line with the jock-frat guys on the football squad and Schmidt finds romance with an attractive art major. The girl’s roommate (Jillian Bell) is the comedic firecracker of the show, she repeatedly steals scenes from the very funny Hill.
By mining the off-screen strengths and weakness of the leads, Channing Tatum’s character has an aversion to improvisation, while Schmidt is woefully inept at organized athletics. The verbally gifted Hill isn’t near the physical presence of Tatum, and Tatum’s lack of in-the-moment ranting ability is off-set by his attractiveness. Sophisticated insights like this are intermingled with the single greatest supporting performance in a comedy this year by Jillian Bell. This comedic fireball has an angelic appearance and the foulest mouth this side of Eddie Murphy. Wyatt Russell is ok as the star quarterback who becomes an immediate best friend to Jenko. Russell is such a spitting image of his famous father it was off-putting for a while before I adjusted.
Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s 22 Jump Street is acutely aware that it is a sequel. The best gags are in reference to the repetitive nature of the film’s plot and character arcs. By acknowledging this is a cash-out for its creative talent after the surprise success of its predecessor, the film still could have been a pile of cynical clichés. Instead the writers, directors, and cast have decided to deliver a quality follow-up that outshines the first film.
Director: Chris Miller and Phil Lord
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Wyatt Russell