Up until now in 2014, the film with the most laughs has actually been Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s animated family feature The Lego Movie. It is by no real surprise that Lord and Miller’s newest live-action offering, follow-up to 2012’s 21 Jump Street, claims the title of best comedy of the year thus far. 22 Jump Street bears similarities to many other comedy sequels, mainly due to the fact that the plot is essentially a carbon copy of its predecessor. We again see Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill infiltrate an education establishment – this time a college – in order to find the supplier of a narcotic that has caused the death of a student. However, Lord and Miller succeed where other directors have failed; while the film is set to the backdrop of an all-too-familiar scenario, the jokes are fresh and the movie is hilariously self-aware of its sequel status.
After a foray against a gang of drug dealers, the film opens with Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) telling Jenko and Schmidt that “nobody gave a shit about the Jump Street reboot, but you got lucky: this department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going.” This kind of commentary seems to be a one-off joke to kick things off, just as it was in the first film, but the meta-nature of the movie only grows, and brilliantly so. Our lead characters worry about the budget of their mission as they race through the college campus during a car chase and Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson works in an office that itself resembles a cube of ice. This culminates in an extended end credits sequence, which is as funny as it is satirical, that pokes fun at the need in Hollywood for endless sequels and tie-in merchandise.
As we see Schmidt investigate the artsy scene at the college and Jenko form a ‘dynamic duo’ with fratboy quarterback Zook (played by Wyatt Russell), the focus on the central bromance between the two cops is amped up. Schmidt’s jealousy lets the film take a break from the action, riffing instead on romantic comedies – they decide that they should split up and “investigate other people.” Tatum proves himself yet again as being an actor with great comedic chops, playing dumb excellently. There is one scene in which Jenko’s realisation of a certain situation is signified by the inspired use of a microwave ping sound effect, and his subsequent reaction leaves the audience roaring with laughter.
Thanks to Lord and Miller’s direction, as well as a strong script credited to Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, the movie mostly strikes a good balance between silliness and intelligence. The take on life at college is consistently amusing, with Hill hilariously performing a ‘slam poem’ and Tatum opening bottles of beer with random parts of his body. There is some great visual humour here – something that is generally missing from the more improvisational American comedy films nowadays – including an easy-to-miss Benny Hill gag. This is just one of an array of references, which range from Bad Boys to Annie Hall.
This is by no means a perfect comedy however, and not all of the jokes land. Jillian Bell’s turn as Mercedes features an incessant flow of old-man jokes aimed towards Jonah Hill, which soon grow tiresome. Other members of the supporting cast are thankfully utilised in a better fashion, with Ice Cube receiving a far more expanded role this time around, stealing all of the scenes that he is in. Captain Dickson is funnier and angrier, as we see him take out his temper on buffet food after a particular revelation. Despite a few dips now and then, there are a lot more hits than misses overall, and 22 Jump Street only re-establishes Lord and Miller as two of the sharpest movie-makers around right now.
22 Jump Street (2014), directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Releasing, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below: