Remember that sinking feeling when you realized The Hangover II was just a pure money grab that left for dead the audience’s love of the original simply so someone in Hollywood could buy another Tesla?
Well, that’s not going to happen with 22 Jump Street, a sequel that has as many laughs as a Texas spring has tornadoes.
The whole thing — from the mock, TV-episode opening (“previously on 21 Jump Street”) to the wickedly inspired closing credits imagining future sequels — is a beautiful surprise. Kinda like finding out someone has just deposited a thousand bucks in your bank account.
It helps that the original directors (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller), main writer (Michael Bacall) and the core of the cast (Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ice Cube) are back. It also helps that they’ve returned with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. This silly movie is a whip-smart commentary on sequels in a summer season full of them. More than that though, it’s just plain funny.
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Once again, Tatum and Hill are Jenko and Schmidt, undercover cops who — after the death of a student linked to a new synthetic drug — are infiltrating a campus to find out who’s dealing. Except this time they are going back to college, not high school. If that sounds suspiciously like the plot from the first film, well, that’s the point.
Jenko becomes a football star and finds a new BFF in teammate Zook (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be one of the main suspects. Schmidt falls in wide-eyed love with Maya (Amber Stevens), who happens to live across the hall from where the deceased lived and has even taken in her former neighbor’s roommate, Mercedes (a hilarious Jillian Bell, Workaholics).
All the while, Jenko and Schmidt’s humorless boss (N.W.A.-mean Ice Cube, not Are We There Yet? Ice Cube) is on their tails for results. Cube almost steals the movie with a brief but brilliant scene in a restaurant buffet line.
But the Cube has a lot of competition for most memorable moment: Hill’s version of slam poetry, for instance. And the comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill — whether it’s in their wordplay or physical humor — really makes Jump Street explode. While it’s easy to knock Tatum in other roles, he’s pitch-perfect here as the jock sidekick.
It all ends — as every summer sequel worth its stuntmen budget should — with a big chase and shootout and that aforementioned promise of at least a decade’s worth of sequels. (Be sure to stay through the credits and keep an eye out for cameos.)
Maybe it shouldn’t be shocking that 22 Jump Street is as good as it is. After all, Lord and Miller are responsible for the well-regarded Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie. They have pop-culture smarts and a sense of visual energy, and they seem to be on a roll.
But they probably shouldn’t push their luck with those “Jump Street” sequels. Anyone who sat through The Hangover Part III would agree.
22 JUMP STREET
* * * *
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube
Rated: R (strong language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity, some violence)
Running time: 112 min.