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Non-Review Review: 22 Jump Street

Comedy sequels can be a tough beast.

After all, a joke isn’t as funny the second time around and – if it is – there’s always the DVD.  Comedy sequels often find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place. They have to pay homage and due respect to what came before, but they can’t simply tread out the same old jokes. It isn’t a case of simply doing the same thing but bigger, as with most sequels. Comedy sequels are a tough nut to crack.

The genius of 22 Jump Street is the way that it accepts this and turns it into the biggest joke of the film.

Jumping back into their roles...

Jumping back into their roles…

One of the stronger gags of 21 Jump Street featured a somewhat cynical commanding officer explaining the premise of the movie – complaining about how the powers that be had run out of original ideas and decided to just recycle a successful programme from the eighties. It was a scene that didn’t so much lean on the fourth wall as crack it open with a sledgehammer. It was an indication that writers and directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord knew exactly what they were doing.

Returning for a bigger budget sequel, Lord and Miller turn the sequel itself into the gag. After the Koreans repossess the church located at 21 Jump Street, our crimefighting duo simply move across the street to a larger and more expensive Vietnamese church at 22 Jump Street. Noticing the construction work underway at 23 Jump Street, Jenko idly wonders if they’ll be back across the street again in two years time. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Schmidt responds.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

22 Jump Street finds itself facing many of the same challenges as many other comic sequels. “You’re just going to do what you did last time,” the no-nonsense Captain Dickson curtly informs his two leading actors. The police catch a break in their case simply by following the same format and plot beats as they did the first time around, much like 22 Jump Street itself follows the similar “retain the basic plot structure but invert the dynamic between the leads” pattern that we’ve come to expect from sequels.

Last time, Schmidt was accepted by the cool kids while Jenko found himself ostracised. This time, Jenko is the one who fits in effortlessly while Schmidt is on the outside looking in. The movie explicitly and consciously mirrors the structure of the first film, right down to a pressing social engagement for the cool partner that climaxes in a delightfully absurd chase sequence. It all seems quite familiar.

Jump Street cubed...

Jump Street cubed…

That is, of course, the entire point. While 22 Jump Street lacks the out-of-left-field charm of its direct predecessor, it makes up for that with self-awareness. The movie is not so much a sequel to 21 Jump Street as a spoof of comedy sequels in general. It turns what is the biggest problem of a comedy sequel into the movie’s biggest and most hilarious punchline. It defuses what could have been the movie’s biggest stumbling block, and makes it possible to write off the movie’s potential weaknesses as meta-gags.

There is inevitable just the slightest hint of fatigue here, but 22 Jump Street is light enough on its feet that it never becomes a serious problem. As with 21 Jump Street, the key is in the casting. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make one of the best buddy comedy teams in quite some time. Jonah Hill is the perfect comedic lead with just the right amount of dramatic heft, while Channing Tatum just oozes charisma and seems up for absolutely anything that the movie might throw at him.

Rif(kin) on sequels...

Rif(kin) on sequels…

Another of the movie’s better self-aware gags has Tatum’s Jenko complaining about improv, acknowledging that it isn’t necessarily his strong suit. Given that Tatum lacks Hill’s background in stand-up comedy (something that he readily admits) and that 21 Jump Street was his break out comedy leading role, it seems like a rather wry wink at the audience.  22 Jump Street spends most of its runtime winking slyly, to a point where it’s very hard not to admire the movie’s sense of humour about itself.

As with the last film, Lord and Miller balance the comedy and action quite well. That said, the action sequences do suffer a little bit from the sense that 22 Jump Street is revisiting stuff that worked the first time – while the film is able to turn recycled gags into meta-gags, the actions sequences don’t quite have that luxury. For example, the movie’s big chase sequence is more elaborate and arguably more surreal than the chase from the previous film, but it feels a little bit too much like the movie is covering old ground.

Playing ball...

Playing ball…

By its very nature, 22 Jump Street might not be as fresh and exciting as 21 Jump Street. However, the fact that it is well aware of this helps a great deal. It’s a fantastic comedy sequel, and a hilarious film on its own terms. It inherits a lot of the strengths of its direct predecessor, and turns the typical weaknesses of comedy sequels into strengths.

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6 Responses

  1. I only read the first and last paragraph, but I’m glad you liked it. I’m most spoiler adverse to comedies I’m looking forward to. :p

  2. Reblogged this on Marge T. Large Reviews and commented:
    The value of winking to the audience.

  3. The film is hilarious. Tatum and Hill work so well together and to be honest my favourites scene where with them and Ice Cube.

    Great Review Darren 😀

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