Previously, on 21 Jump Street…
Actually, on second thought, there’s no need to rehash what happened previously. Not because those plot details are not important; indeed, if you haven’t seen 21 Jump Street in a while, if ever, then you’ll surely miss out on some of the subtler, cleverer jokes of 22 Jump Street, the sequel hitting theaters this weekend.
No, the rehash is unnecessary, because 22 Jump Street provides it right up front. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that 22 Jump Street is nothing but a giant, almost two-hour rehash of 21 Jump Street — and that’s exactly why it works.
Round two of Jump Street picks up where we last saw undercover
man-children police officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum): Hard at work busting crime at college. Online college, that is. But following the sudden, drug-fueled death of a student at a local, brick-and-mortar university, Schmidt and Jenko are busted back to the Jump Street program to infiltrate the school, find the drug suppliers, and bring them to justice.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s basically the plot of 21 Jump Street. College subs in for high school. A new hallucinogenic drug called WHYPHY (pronounced Wi-Fi) replaces the last movie’s H.F.S. drug. Schmidt and Jenko’s headquarters has abandoned the Korean church at 21 Jump Street for the Vietnamese church directly across the street at 22 Jump Street; there’s even a condo complex developing on the same block at 23 Jump Street.
The same basic premise and accompanying jokes are shared across the two movies, and that fact is not lost on the characters themselves. Numerous times through 22 Jump Street, Schmidt and Jenko observe that their current assignment shares eerie similarities with their last one. Even their commanding officer, foul-mouthed Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), repeatedly tells Schmidt and Jenko to just “do what [they] did last time.”
“Nobody gave a shit about the Jump Street reboot the first time,” Deputy Chief Hardy, once again played by Nick Offerman, the erstwhile Ron Swanson, tells Schmidt and Jenko early on in the film. “You got lucky.”
Against the odds, the power quartet of Lord, Miller, Tatum and Hill have created a worthy second entry in their Jump Street saga.
Offerman’s line perfectly summarizes the meta-level self-awareness on display throughout 22 Jump Street. Returning directors Phil Lord and Chrisopher Miller, now a household name thanks to their last Jump Street and, most recently and even more popularly, The LEGO Movie, are smart enough to know that the first Jump Street reboot was a tall order, and that the bar for the sequel is even higher. The only way to clear it is to burst straight forward through the wall of empty beer cans.
With a familiar story in place, Lord and Miller are able to put Jenko and Schmidt through familiar paces, but with new coats of paint. Jenko is no longer the “f**k you science” nerd far removed from “the cool kids”; he’s the coolest kid, the best football player on the field, and the most exciting prospect in his fraternity’s pledge class.
Schmidt, meanwhile, is no longer the Peter Pan superstar of the duo; he’s hanging with the slam poem-reading art kid crowd, and even though he has a new girlfriend (although maybe she doesn’t see it that way), he doesn’t feel like he quite fits in. It doesn’t help that people are constantly calling Schmidt out for looking like a narc — or, as one person describes him, “the star of a cop show called Hawaiian Dads.”
The role reversal between Schmidt and Jenko forms the heart of the film. As Jenko thrives on popularity and Schmidt drowns in insecurity, the two begin to grow apart, to the point that Jenko suggests they start “investigating other people,” if only to “sow their cop oats.” It’s a Jump Street movie, so you know that nothing could ever truly separate these two best friends. Still, every time the movie forces a wedge between them, it’s comedy gold.
On most other sequels, the blatant retread of stories and character beats from the original film would leave viewers feeling cold. But because Lord and Miller lean into the familiar by addressing it up front, sharpening some new edge, and boasting even more confidence than usual, it all works. Really, though, everything works because of two names: Hill and Tatum.
As Schmidt and Jenko, Hill and Tatum have created one of the best comedy duos in recent memory. They’re each other’s yin and yang, their equal and opposite numbers, even if they can’t quite complete each other’s sentences. As Offerman suggests, a Jump Street reboot is a tall order, let alone a sequel. It would not work without Hill and Tatum’s undeniable chemistry.
Against the odds, the power quartet of Lord, Miller, Tatum and Hill have created a worthy second entry in their Jump Street saga. By all accounts, it looks like they could keep going for another thirty films. The bottom line: 22 Jump Street isn’t exactly something unique, but it is something cool, and more than that, something hilarious.