NEW YORK – The laughs from “21 Jump Street” are forwarded across the street to “22 Jump Street” in the riotous sequel that nearly rivals the original.
While this is essentially the same movie as its predecessor, there is plenty here with a fresh bite. With an extended eye-wink, “22 Jump Street” is completely self-aware of its existence, often jeering the lack of originality in sequels, bigger budgets and how they rarely live up to the original. Since this genre has more than exhausted itself over three and a half decades, writers Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman are smart to hold a mirror up to the buddy cop genre, generating the comedy through self-awareness and even self-deprecation. But with this cast and crew, it is not surprising, though, that buried within the exact same plot as “21 Jump Street” is a refreshing and often laugh-out-loud funny comedy.
Like the first film, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) sends Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) on assignment to uncover the source of a new lethal drug that has infiltrated a college campus. Jenko follows a lead to the football team where he gets him swept up in jock and befriends his suspect, the equally imbecilic Zook (Wyatt Russell). Schmidt, conversely, joins the school's improv troupe where he strikes up an awkward romance with Maya (Amber Stevens), an art history major with a few secrets of her own.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are such a mismatched comedy duo -- but they somehow become a perfect fit and their offbeat combo is what makes this film (and the first) work as well as it does. As incompetent street patrol cops-turned undercover detectives, Schmidt and Jenko have a hilarious 'bro-mance' that pokes fun at the homoeroticism in many male buddy cop films. The great irony here is that there are moments when Hill and Tatum criticize the use of gay slurs in 2014 when just a few weeks ago Hill went on an apology tour after he made a public faux pas.
Tatum and Hill are a riot, especially Tatum's unsophisticated and genuinely dumb Jenko. Tatum plays his stupidity to perfection; as questions and situations arise, we can see the gears working overtime in his head as he attempts to solve the most basic problems and either falls very short or hilariously misses the point all together.
Like the first film, “22 Jump Street” blasts all the tropes the writers can plunder, from obvious student stereotypes to early morning walk of shames to college arts programs. Students, teachers and school activities all get lampooned, though the best and funniest trope is pummeled during the film’s end credit sequence (so be sure to stay through those).
Apart from original cast members Nick Offerman and Ice Cube returning (as well as a few other surprise cameos) Peter Stormare (“Fargo) and Jillian Bell (“Bridesmaids”) join the cast. Bell, in particular, steals the show as Maya’s deadpan, expressionless and very funny roommate.
Both “21” and “22 Jump Street” have come as close to buddy cop comedy nirvana as possible. The comedy is sharp and the mystery still has a few unexpected twists. Both films should make for a great double feature one day and it will be pretty difficult to top the Hill-Tatum duo going forward.
Sony Pictures. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes.