Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)

22 Jump Street, the sequel to the better-than-expected Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum back-to-high-school cop comedy, demonstrates that irony and sincerity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it would seem that in 21st-century pop culture they can work alongside each other.

The previous film, 2012’s 21 Jump Street, was an adaptation of the late-80s/early-90s Johnny Depp television series. It was highly self-conscious of its derivative nature and although it significantly departed in tone from the original crime drama, it frequently played with the viewer’s knowledge of the TV show and its own status as an adaptation. Furthermore, the film was an amusing mix of clichés of every sort, from teen comedies to macho action movies.

22 Jump Street is also self-consciously derivative. Opening with a recap sequence in a nod to both the previous film and the original TV show, 22 Jump Street acknowledges it’s a sequel and then runs with the idea for the length of the movie (including the end credits). If you’ll recall, in 21 Jump Street there was a great ironic scene in which the Deputy Chief (Nick Offerman) explained to Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) that the department was reviving an old program from the 80s. In 22 Jump Street, in a scene that mirrors that one, the Deputy Chief explains to Schmidt and Jenko that because of their previous mission’s success they’re going on another mission exactly like it, except that they’re going undercover to college instead of high school. The scene works not only as a tongue-in-cheek rehash of the first movie’s gag, but also as a jesting indictment of the sequel’s blatant commercial motivations.

Who is the joke on in a scene like this? Just as I know the movie’s a sequel, the movie admits it’s a sequel, but while it’s joking about being a money grab it has successfully grabbed my money. Yet I enjoyed the joke and in fact the entire sequel. Does everybody win? Can everybody win? This sort of friendly satire, in which everything is playfully mocked and everybody’s supposed to benefit, characterizes the film.

Similarly, the film desires to both praise and make fun of male friendship. Like many comedies of the past decade, it’s a “bromance,” and so it plays up friendship’s parallels to romance in order to suggest the significance of Schmidt and Jenko’s partnership/friendship as well as to generate laughs. For example, at one point Jenko suggests they might experiment with an “open investigation.” Again, the humour is working in all directions, poking fun at the idea of “open relationships” as solutions to relational issues, laughing at Schmidt and Jenko’s tender exchange, troubling conventional notions of “tough guy” cops and unemotional masculinity, and suggesting that male friendships need effort, communication, and negotiation like all relationships.

You might think I’m reading too far into this so-obviously silly comedy. My point, however, isn’t that the ludicrous humour veils serious intentions. My point is that 22 Jump Street cares about male friendship, but that it’s also irreverent, goofy, and plain idiotic at times. Likewise, 22 Jump Street wants to be a sequel as well as make fun of sequels. It laughs at its audience, but it also desperately wants us to laugh at it. It mocks its characters, but it also celebrates them. Even the visual representation of both the frat parties and spring break is similarly equivocal, as the camera noticeably avoids the all-too-standard gratuitous shots of breasts, girl-girl kissing, body shots, etc., while it still enjoys the energy of the partying. All this is perhaps less surprising given that the directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, display a similar desire to have things both—or every—way in their previous venture, The LEGO Movie (Aren described that film as a corporate product that wants to criticize corporatism.)

In short, 22 Jump Street wants to be ridiculous, hilarious, and irreverent, but in a nice way. And while fissures form below the surface, I was left feeling it generally achieved its exuberant mix.

7 out of 10

22 Jump Street (USA, 2014)

Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller; screenplay by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman; starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Ice Cube, and Nick Offerman.