Review: 22 Jump Street

Jonah Hill;Channing Tatum

If it’s another weekend this summer at movie theaters, then there is doubtless another sequel to digest. There has already been an encyclopedia’s worth of critique as to the necessity (or lack thereof) of the franchise mindset that has infected the Hollywood studio system. While originality in major studio tentpoles can be scarce, there also can be opportunity to buck the trend and defy expectations in familiar packaging. With the sudden success of 21 Jump Street in 2012, it’s no surprise to see a second outing already baked and ready for consumption, but it also secretly has a the hidden agenda. While 22 Jump Street is again mostly funny and continues to bank on the winning chemistry of its stars, it’s also a fairly effective satire on “sequelitis” and whether they deserve to exist.

The process of self deconstruction in 22 Jump Street begins from the very first shot, in which a quick montage recaps the duo’s previous adventure, complete with the urgent phrase “previously on”. When Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were victorious in taking down a drug ring at a high school, they were convinced they would be promoted to investigating colleges. Little did they know their work was strictly peripheral, but as their external assignments become increasingly more botched, they are reassigned to go back to college. A new drug is all the craze in MC State, and so Schmidt and Jenko are tasked with embedding themselves in the dorms are finding the supplier. If this setup sounds exactly the same, that’s because it is, and the film knows it. However, 22 Jump Street is also smart enough to develop its characters a little bit further, in albeit expected fashion. Schmidt finds himself attracted to a girl in the dorms, and Jenko sees himself in tune with the football team and a fraternity. Inevitably, they begin to grow apart, until the urgency of the investigation brings them back together.

As with its predecessor, 22 Jump Street is largely successful due to the strength of its power couple. Hill continues to flex his improvisational chops with ease, none better than in a standout early scene in which Schmidt is suddenly forced into a slam poetry contest. Tatum is also effortlessly funny in his own way, especially when Jenko finds himself out of his depth and must adopt a poorly rehearsed Mexican accent. Indeed, if the film is a takedown on sequels, then it’s even more specifically a deconstruction on bromance. It goes through the paces beat for beat, montage for montage, but it does so knowingly. There are more than a few moments where 22 Jump Street reflects back on itself, down to telegraphing its entire trajectory early on. It should be noted that for a film so intent on lampooning sequel cliches, it never makes any attempt to transcend them, but perhaps that isn’t really the point. Most of these reflexive moments are clever, even if one senses there may be a couple too many winks that distract from the story. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller found even more sly success with franchise subversion earlier this year with The Lego Movie, so its refreshing to see them have this take on current Hollywood culture twice in a row. If the end credits’ cheeky promise of the dozens of sequels comes to fruition, there may be no better pair of pairs to follow along.

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~ by romancinema on June 14, 2014.

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