22 Jump Street movie review: an advanced course in the sequel

22 Jump Street green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Funnier, cleverer, wittier, and snarkier than the first film. It is nonstop self-deprecation that doles out well-deserved smacks to about 817 Hollywood things that desperately deserve it.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved the first film…
I’m “biast” (con): …but wasn’t expecting to love the sequel
I have seen the source material (and I love it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I am like Charlie Brown contemplating before me Lucy with the football, and wondering once again if I will let myself be suckered in… again.

And I did.

See, I loved the late 80-early 90s TV show 21 Jump Street. And I hate Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill with the power of a thousand dying brown dwarf stars (so, you know, not that much, but still). Also too: Hollywood please stop it with the reboots and the remakes and the updos and whatever and start telling some new stories. So I fully expected that the so-clearly pointless big-screen 2012 do-over of that show would be as stupid as the trailer made it look.

But it wasn’t. It was clever. It was hilarious. Channing Tatum suddenly almost verged on the somewhat potentially attractive thanks to his willingness to make fun of his blockhead self. My mind was blown. My expectations were thwarted. It was a wonderful feeling, to know that I could still be surprised by Teh Movies, jaded critic and too-often-disappointed movie nerd that I am.

Jump Street the movie made a bazillion dollars, and rightfully so cuz see above. So of course now we are confronted with the sequel. And we all know that most sequels are contradictorily bigger and louder and more expensive and also cheaper and smaller and lazier and not as fun. So of course I went into 22 Jump Street all “I loved the first one but sequels, geez, c’mon already Hollywood,” and grumped as the lights went down.

And yet, once again, I am humbled. 22 Jump Street is funnier, cleverer, wittier, snarkier, and all good humorous things morer than the first film. It is nonstop self-deprecation — as if it is embarrassed by its “sequel to a reboot” status — that doles out well-deserved smacks to about 817 Hollywood things that desperately deserve it: TV shows that become movies, sequelitis, dumb cops, dumb action heroes, meet-cutes, obvious red herrings, buddy cops, buddy comedies, bromances, gun fights, fist fights, college comedies, frat comedies (hell yeah: just the small amount of frat stuff here is way better than the entirety of Bad Neighbours), 30-something actors playing teenagers, and other nonsense. Dammit, even the deliberately clichéd soundtrack is deployed to brilliant comedic effect.

I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. The kind of laughter where you didn’t think you were capable of such transport and you’re a little scared by it. By the end credits — which are, dear god, insanely funny in how they knock everything you dread for the future of even a franchise this good — I was on the verge of an actual crackup from cracking up.

Have I mentioned this is a funny funny movie? It’s probably funnier the more you’re steeped in movies, and the more tired you are of how predictable and obvious they’ve become. (Meaning: your mileage may vary if you’re not me.) There’s a sort of genius in how 22 is clearly exhausted by all the movie-movie stuff it’s making fun of, and yet also manages to be all that movie-movie stuff in a fresh new way.

One little moment sorta encapsulates what 22 is doing. Cops Schmidt (Hill: The Lego Movie, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jenko (Tatum: The Lego Movie, White House Down) have “graduated” to going undercover at “Metro City State College” — they’re investigating a drugs case that is “just like last time” — and Jenko finds himself unexpectedly enthralled by the Human Sexuality class he didn’t even want to take (after he learns that it’s not about having sex in class or watching people have sex in class). As he’s devouring the textbook, he says to Schmidt, with a sort of newly self-aware horror, “Did you know I used gay slurs all through high school?” And he’s sorry about this! It’s like a little metaphor for how Hollywood can be taught, how it can be enlightened. This movie is as big and as loud and as actiony and as goofy as an action comedy sequel can be, and yet it’s (mostly) not stupid, sexist, or homophobic along the way. For good measure there’s a running joke about how Jenko, who is dumber than a bag of Glocks, sometimes realizes this, and laments how it limits him. “Fuck you, brain,” he says, rather sadly, to himself, and it zings by before you even realize how brilliant that is.

Returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and should-be-too-many-but-isn’t screenwriters Michael Bacall (Project X, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman, and Jonah Hill (yup, same one) don’t get it all 100 percent right: there’s an aside with Rob Riggle (The Internship, The Lorax) and Dave Franco (Bad Neighbours, Now You See Me), bad guys returning from the first film, that is a little uncomfortable and never quite genuinely funny or as enlightened as I think it thinks it is. But it’s still not quite the same old sort of retrograde shit so many other similar movies end up with, more a they’re-at-least-trying-to-be-smarter-but-they-failed sort of thing. (If you’ve got that many guys working on your script anyway, maybe make room for one more, maybe a woman? It’s an idea!)

It’s almost made up for by a long game of a joke that addresses the frequent hypocrisies of how men approve — or don’t — of other men’s sexual conquests. And also by the just plain niceness of the humor. So much of what passes for comedy coming out of Hollywood is meanspirited, taking easy swipes at the powerless and downtrodden. 22 Jump Street punches up, at the excesses and inanities of Hollywood, and not down, at targets who don’t deserve it, and even then, it’s never cruel about it.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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