“22 Jump Street” has its cake and eats it too: The film’s not-veiled-at-all running joke is that sequels are bloated and not as good as the original, but it’s also just as fun and funny as the original. And really, the “21 Jump Street” TV series probably followed a formula from week to week also, so it’s not like “22 Jump Street” could be anything other than an undercover cop comedy while still being true to its premise.
In the 2012 original, they were undercover high school students. This time, Jonah Hill (as Schmidt) and Channing Tatum (as Jenko) go undercover as students at Metropolitan City State, aiming to ferret out the dealer of the hot new drug Why-Phy. The two friends in real life continue to have effortless chemistry, although the gag about them “investigating other people,” paralleling the clichés of romantic comedies, does wear a bit thin.
In general, though, the action and humor flows easily and the film never feels padded. In addition to the sequel jokes (“Just do the same thing you did last time”) and age jokes, another running gag is the difference in physical fitness between the partners. A highlight is when Schmidt slowly rappels up a wall using a mechanical winch while Jenko leaps between balconies like Spider-Man.
The supporting cast helps keep things fresh. Jillian Bell (“Eastbound and Down”) is a breakthrough as Mercedes, the jealous roommate of the girl Schmidt is dating. “22 Jump Street” reaches its zenith when Mercedes and Schmidt fight and nearly kiss, leading to further fighting over whether either of them was leaning in for a kiss or not. Bell’s comedic knack is equal to Hill’s, and she’ll likely have a big career ahead of her.
As in the first film, Schmidt gets an inexplicable amount of action as he dates art student Maya (Amber Stevens). When we learn more about her, it leads to a great mid-movie twist.
The stuff about Jenko finding his place in a frat house full of football players and dreaming of a gridiron career is a little less surprising. But there are still some good gags playing on Jenko being slow on the uptake, like when he talks about taking his place in the “anals” of football lore.
I probably won’t end up remembering much about “22 Jump Street” by the time “23 Jump Street” rolls around, because it is indeed disposable entertainment. But it’s hard to knock a film that doesn’t take itself seriously for one second. It ends in pitch-perfect fashion as the partners’ boss, Dickson (Ice Cube), tells those “sonsofbitches” about their next assignment, leading to a montage of posters and clips from sequels all the way up through the outer-space-set “2121 Jump Street.” Good stuff.