When the "21 Jump Street" reboot hit the big screen in 2012, it was a happy surprise for critics and fans alike. No one expected much, but the comedy revamp of the '80s TV classic managed to hit all the right notes. This year's sequel, "22 Jump Street," follows the well-worn path of many sophomore efforts by returning to the well, but it doesn't just go through the motions. With smart writing, excellent performances and almost non-stop laughter, "22 Jump Street" is one of those rare sequels that is better than its predecessor.
The film opens with Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) attempting a traditional police bust. It's a combination of physical humor and one-liners that works, though there's nothing very impressive in the first few minutes. It's only when the two return to report their failure to Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) that "22 Jump Street" really takes off. Instead of trying to toe the sequel line, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("21 Jump Street," "The LEGO Movie") fully embrace the sequel trope and do what they do best: make fun of it.
Although "22 Jump Street" never quite crosses the fourth wall, it comes pretty darn close on multiple occasions. Standard sequel pitfalls become punchlines, along with everything else the film skewers. It would have been easy to go too far, but Lord and Miller know just when to pull back on the metatextual jokes and shift back into standard humor. By keeping things varied, it always feels like the film is in on the joke without becoming the butt of the joke.
To say that "22 Jump Street" is packed with humor would be an understatement. The jokes run from the subtle (a car chase occurs outside the Benjamin Hill building on campus) to the physical (Schmidt getting an octopus on his face) and every shade in between. Tatum is easily the star of the film, with spot-on timing and a confused deadpan that is tuned to perfection. It doesn't matter if he's confusing carte blanche with Cate Blanchett or having trouble understanding the difference between Wi-Fi (it's everywhere!) and the drug that Schmidt and Jenko are supposed to be tracking down (WhyPhy), Tatum's Jenko is always a loveable oaf.
Surprisingly, though, it's Ice Cube who steals the show. Unlike the first film, where he was relegated to the role of "angry captain," in "22 Jump Street," he's given the chance to exercise his comedy chops, and when he does, he shines. It's all about the facial expression.
The humor even reaches into the range of social commentary, making fun of the media for always focusing on "white girl victims" and why it's a bad idea to use gay slurs. It all works in the context of the film and is neither preachy nor insulting.
There are two sequences in the film that feel a little long (one mid-show, the other a hotel fight scene near the end) and seem to drag out a bit too much, but aside from those, it is difficult to find fault with "22 Jump Street." The movie does so much right that it's easy to forgive any stumbles. It should also be noted that you should stay for the credits. "22 Jump Street" starts out by making fun of sequels, and it ends in the same way. The payoff is worth it.
In the end, a comedy is best judged by how much it makes you laugh. With "22 Jump Street," that laughter is almost non-stop from start to finish. The humor is smart, the acting is solid, and the ride is a good one. You won't regret going back to college with Schmidt and Jenko.
"22 Jump Street" is rated "R" and has a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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