Good sequels are hard to come by, but a good comedy sequel is even rarer. From Ghostbusters II to Anchorman 2, the subjectivity of humor and the necessary familiarity of sequels have proven to be an oil-and-water combination that usually results in the regression of character development and other forms of beat-for-beat, joke-for-joke repetition. Enter Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directing team who made an impressively entertaining comedy out of Legos, an improbably wonderful movie out of a 30-page children's book, and one of the smartest, funniest comedies in recent memory with 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an '80s TV show that bursts with wit and invention throughout. If anyone could crack the comedy sequel formula, they seemed like prime candidates. Sadly, 22 Jump Street is a very funny but inferior follow-up that retains some of the same spirit but lacks the invention of the original.
The first film had some sly commentary on reboots built into it, delivered by Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman): Jump Street Division was a "cancelled police program from the '80s," revived because "the people in charge lack ideas." Hardy returns in the sequel to explain that "nobody expected the Jump Street reboot to go anywhere," and inform them they're about to do the same thing at twice the budget. It's a funny gag, but 22 lacks the light touch of the original, emphasizing the familiarity of having Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) infiltrating a school tracking down a synthetic drug until the joke loses steam. Sure, 21 poked fun at conventions in car chases and action heroes, but the movie was driven by its characters. Here, the winking threatens to overtake the movie, suffocating the actual story under self-awareness.
The emphasis of these jokes highlights 22's more pervasive problem: the pacing. The film constantly reminds the viewer it's modeled on the original, but it spends far less time developing its characters than the first movie. Jenko joins the football team and becomes best buds with Zook (Wyatt Russell), while Schmidt looks on in jealousy. Russell is funny, mimicking some of Tatum's endearing lunkheadedness, but there's less to the character than Molly, the pretty drama student who commanded Schmidt's attention in the first film. Meanwhile, Schmidt gets close to art nerd Maya (Amber Stevens), who displays more charisma but also lacks the depth of Jenko's nerd posse in the original. Some of the film's biggest laughs are provided by Maya's roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell), but she's basically a joke machine, a character that feels like she stepped out of a rapid-fire, improv-heavy Judd Apatow film. The film's main antagonist, Ghost (Peter Stormare), hardly even gets any jokes. The richness of the characters may not be a comedy sequel's biggest concern, but that kind of attention to detail in the first film served as the basis for observational humor about high school and plenty of plain-old character comedy. 22 has gags about many of these characters, but that's about it -- easily the film's biggest flaw.
That said, the film does get funnier as it goes along, mining big laughs from Jenko and Schmidt's intimate partnership. Some will try and argue that these jokes are homophobic, but they all play off universal "relationship" tropes, with the exception of a funny scene involving a school counselor / psych teacher. The earnestness with which Lord and Miller (and screenwriters Michael Bacall, Rodney Rothman, and Oren Uziel) present the partners' need for the yin to the other's yang does help bring back the first movie's comedic sweetness, an angle that still refreshes among more abrasive comedies. Ice Cube returns as Jump Street's Captain Dickson, irritable as ever, and gets more to do in two of the film's most hilarious scenes. Keith and Kenny Lucas play twin brothers Keith and Kenny Yang, the roommates living across the hall from Schmidt and Jenko, and elevate scenes through sheer uncanny chemistry. Also (although it'd be unlikely anyone would be able to leave fast enough to miss anything), be sure to stay seated once the credits begin to play.
By the time the third act rolls around, the film is firmly settling, trotting out fairly standard car chases and shootouts as the set-up for some admittedly funny gags. At the end of the day, 22 Jump Street is a cut above most of its contemporaries, but considering the skills of the creative team and the quality of the original, this manages to feel like a bit of a disappointment. Lord and Miller have confused what made the first film smart with what made it great, and the result is a sequel that's very thoughtful but lacks the overall charm of the first movie. It's certainly bold to make a movie that reminds the viewer whenever possible that they're rehashing the same material as last time (even when the movie isn't), but it'd have been braver to play it (comedically) straight.
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