The primary joke of 22 Jump Street is that sequels are all about doing the exact same thing as before, but with a bigger budget. The film’s paper-thin fourth wall is constantly being breached, the characters often commenting on how the higher ups at the police department, standing in for Hollywood executives, don’t really want to try anything new. The joke wears itself thin eventually, as the film at times gives it too fine a point. But all in all, this is a fun little comedy that benefits from the great comedic chemistry between its two leads.
At the start of the film, partners Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) mess up a major drug bust, letting the suppliers get away. They’re put back in their old assignment, and are sent to go undercover in the local college in order to find the supplier of a dangerous new designer drug called Whyphy. But as soon as they get there, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves being pulled apart into different worlds on campus, and the partners start finding it difficult to work together.
The film seems to take its cue more from the Zucker brothers than the show from which it takes its name. While certainly less wacky than your average Naked Gun movie, there’s a palpable sense of parody governing the logic of this picture. Parody has gained a pretty bad name over the last few years, with the film claiming the title being little more than a bunch of pop culture references strung together. This film distinguishes itself by actually having jokes, and really digging into the elements of its subject.
The jokes about sequels do get tiresome after a while. Though often clever, it sometimes feels like the joke has worn out its welcome. The constant acknowledgement of sequel clichés doesn’t always mitigate the wearying effect of the clichés themselves. Thankfully, the film has more to offer on that end. The central mystery, while fairly simple, is pretty well constructed. And the relationship between the two main characters is genuinely affecting at times. Some of the film’s biggest laughs are drawn from smaller scenes that just have the two hashing out their problems, and considering different arrangements for their friendship.
The film owes much to the chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. There’s a real sweetness between them, and it fuels much of the picture. The two are able to sell the weird hurt that develops between the two characters, and that really gives the film dimension. Hill has always been a reliable comedic performer, but Tatum has grown into quite a comedic threat on his own. The two find ample support from the other members of the cast, particularly from Ice Cube, whose outsized aggressive energy plays well with the main pair’s lighter delivery.
22 Jump Street is probably cheating a little bit. It gets to embrace the excesses of sequels without being called out on it, since the pretense is that they’re just making fun of it. That’s probably a little unfair, but it’s pointless to argue with the result. The film could probably be a little shorter, but they manage to pack a lot of funny in there. Like the parody films of old, the film keeps it pretty simple, and just tries to deliver as many laughs as it can in the time that it’s given. And with Tatum and Hill front and center, the film mostly succeeds.