22 Jump Street is a sequel to 21 Jump Street, both films being based on the television series (1987-1991) that sent hip, young agents like Johnny Depp undercover in high schools to solve crime. Like ‘21’, 22 Jump Street is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, written by Michael Bacall (with Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman) and stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as the undercover agents.
So 22 Jump Street is very much a movie sequel; and, from the opening scene to the clever and hilarious closing credits, it doesn’t let you forget it. The feeble, clichéd plot is presumably part of the package: a hilarious parody of The Hollywood Sequel – the dreaded summer phenomenon turned into a welcome treat.
In the original 2012 film 21 Jump Street, hopeless officers Morton Schmidt (Hill) and Greg Jenko (Tatum) pose as student brothers in a high school to ferret out a drug dealer. Now, Schmidt and Jenko are off to University, with the mission ‘to do the same thing as last time and everyone will be happy’ – more a recipe for a block-bluster sequel than a reference to the agents’ chaotic first assignment.
For Jenko, the assignment is an emotional one, as he confesses to the brainy Schmidt, ‘it’s just that I’m the first person in my family to pretend to go to college’. Jenko is to blur the lines between his ‘character’ and his real identity further when he infiltrates a football fraternity with uncommon alacrity. He becomes best mates with the college jock, Zook (Wyatt Russell – the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) who emerges as a suspect in the case. In one funny scene, the football commentator announces, ‘it’s like these two share a single brain’, that is, ‘half a brain each’.
While the burly Tatum revels in the dumb jock role, the corpulent, height-challenged Hill is equally good as the intellectual who strikes up a relationship with Maya (Amber Stevens) a pretty art student. This side of college life is also subjected to satire when a student informs Schmidt: ‘We’re not really into the whole frat party scene. We like to have a glass of wine and talk about important things.’ When Dickson learns of Schmidt’s relationship with Maya all hell breaks lose for more than one reason.
The self-righteous, disapproving college roommate does not escape satiric treatment, either, here in the form of Mercedes (Jillian Bell). She is suspicious of Schmidt who she accuses of being much older than he lets on. ‘You got 99 problems but being young isn’t one of them,’ she tells Schmidt squirming under her unflinching and hostile stare. It is so tempting to ignore Mercedes that no one pays any attention to her obsession with Schmidt’s identity.
The toxic drug that killed the student at the core of the case is called Whyphy (WiFi), giving Jenko the opportunity to show off his ignorance of the college staple, WiFi. That the mystery is neither mysterious nor challenging and original is disappointing, but paves the way for a spectacular stunt-laden finale, the staple of nearly every summer sequel. In the obligatory chase sequence, the pair pass by the Benjamin Hill Centre for Film Studies, another allusion to the movie sequel theme and state of the Hollywood film industry.
At its heart, 22 Jump Street is a buddy movie with opposites attracting. The aliases drive a wedge between the two cops and Schmidt in particular, feels he is literally losing his partner to Zook. It is, of course, resolved in the finale when the two show us, and each other, why they are the perfect buddy act.
While the chemistry and comic interplay between Tatum and Hill is the big draw, special mention must go to that rare thing: a truly funny script that is not ruined and diluted with scatological, crude and puerile jokes.
Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer