The prevailing thought out there is that a sequel to a comedy will never be as good as the original. I’m pretty sure that thought exists because it’s often true. It certainly feels that way, doesn’t it? 22 Jump Street is a film that bucks that trend. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the sequel is actually an improvement on its predecessor. 22 Jump Street is funnier than 21 Jump Street, and does so by being self-aware while also changing up the formula just enough to feel fresh.
The plot, as you might expect, initially seems very similar to the original. A designer drug, called “Whyphy” (pronounced “wi-fi”), has found its way into a college campus. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), the lovable buddy cops from the last film, are tasked with going undercover in order to find the dealer and put a stop to the whole thing. Exactly like last time, they’re told by their Captain (Ice Cube). And it initially does seem just like last time, but soon enough they discover that college is a different animal.
One of the primary running gags offered in 22 Jump Street involves the duo’s relationship being treated much like a typical romance. Conflict, potential breakups, “seeing other people,” and so on are all touched on. Schmidt finds a girl, Maya (Amber Stevens), with whom he connects, while Jenko meets a football player, Zook (Wyatt Russell), who seems to have exactly the same personality as him. They branch out, fight, and all of this is far more hilarious than I’ve described.
Whether or not a comedy is successful essentially comes down to how often it makes you laugh. And despite a couple of lengthy (five-minute) stretches of relatively few laughs, most of 22 Jump Street is hilarious. If you liked the humor of the first one, and also have a love of self-aware comedy, you’re going to have a great time with this movie. I laughed more during 22 Jump Street than I did during its predecessor. One particular segment almost had me in tears. I can’t remember the last time a comedy came this close to making me tear up with laughter.
A good chunk of the film’s success comes from the pairing of Hill and Tatum, who have a fantastic chemistry and demonstrate that they’ll do anything to get a laugh. Yes, that might involve embarrassing oneself or acting incredibly silly, but they’ll do it. They trust the script and they trust the filmmakers. And that dedication allows them to deliver huge laughs. While the physical comedy isn’t a prime focus, it does exist and whenever it’s used it brings with it a lot of laughter from the audience.
While Hill and Tatum are the leads and are great in those roles, there are points when the supporting cast — both returning and new members — steals the show. Ice Cube gets more time, his own subplot, and gets some of the biggest laughs. Jillian Bell plays the roommate to Hill’s romantic interest, and her old-person insults should get old after a while, but don’t. Nick Offerman, Dave Franco, Rob Diggle, and a couple of other cameos — that I won’t spoil — are all good for solid laughs.
I think part of the reason 22 Jump Street works — in addition to being smart and containing a plethora of jokes — is that it continually acknowledges — indirectly, I grant you — how it’s a sequel. Everyone feels in on the joke. It’s self-aware and self-conscious. It’s meta. It becomes its own in-joke. And if you’re okay with that, you’re going to enjoy it. If that irritates you, then you’re a party pooper who needs to go watch something else.
It’s difficult to determine how much longer this joke will work, but through two installments, it hasn’t gotten dull. The end credits show the potential for another 20 or so chapters in this series — obviously most (if not all) of them won’t happen — and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wanted to see the majority of them. Schmidt and Jenko go to culinary school? Yes! The same can be said of almost all of the other ideas that are pitched during the credits. I’d go see any of these.
22 Jump Street is hilarious and if you enjoyed the first one, you’ll want to go see this one, too. It’s even better than its predecessor. It’s more self-aware, sure, but that actually helps — at least, it does this time out. The future will tell if this amount of success is sustainable, but in the present, the laughs speak for themselves. Hill and Tatum have a great chemistry and are willing to do anything for a laugh, the new additions to the cast are great, the writing is smart, and despite a couple of stretches with few laughs, this is a fantastic movie and one that I really enjoyed watching.