22 Jump Street (2014)

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“Do the same thing. Everyone’s happy.”

Sequels, by and large, don’t work. 22 Jump Street somehow manages to clear that last high hurdle that so many other franchises stumble on. See it in a theater. The most crowded one you can. Squeeze in and brace yourself, because this will be the hardest you ever laugh during a movie. I took in an early showing with all of fifteen other people and the walls still reverberated nonstop laughter. I saw Neighbors earlier this summer and prematurely dubbed it the funniest movie of the year. Not only does 22 Jump Street leave it in its dust, the movie towers above as a work of genius. It’s esoteric in every sense of the word, yet still familiar enough to garner mass appeal. It’s meta, self-aware, and an undeniably good time. All the while it stays true to its predecessor’s reliable formula. It’s heartfelt and uproarious all at once. Sometimes things are better the second time around, and this is one of those rare circumstances.

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Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) return as the odd couple police officers tasked with going undercover. They’ve graduated high school and now face the challenges of college. A new drug called WHYPHY (Work Hard? Yes! Play Hard? Yes!) that stimulates intense focus followed by tripping out starts to run rampant on campus. They’re mission is the same; infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier. They struggle as Jenko bonds with the football team’s quarterback and Schmidt starts dating a gorgeous art major named Maya (Amber Stevens). Their bromance is tested and the tables are turned from last time around. Jenko fits in, Schmidt doesn’t. A hilarious scene shows them “breaking up,” using language like investigate separately on the now open investigation. It perfectly alludes to the current situation. But if you’ve seen the first film, you can probably guess what happens next.

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The writing / directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller go even bigger this time around. As sequels often do, this film is longer and so much larger in scope. Chase scenes go on endlessly and everything is meant to be grand. And that’s the whole point of the movie. It pokes fun at itself just the right amount. The dynamic directing duo craft an amazingly detailed movie. We see numerous girls and Schmidt making the notorious walk of shame, hipsters drinking PBR and boxed wine, and the unused stacks in the library. All of the specific aspects of college life are shown, like when Schmidt and Jenko break the fourth wall and talk to us about their dorm room gear.

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We’re aware the movie is trying to be self-referential in that way. But since it’s helmed but such talented filmmakers, it doesn’t detract from the story at all. Instead the audience is in on the joke and it only makes things funnier. For example, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) spends all of the money for the jump street project on a new headquarters that looks like something out of Iron Man. It’s amazing to me that a studio was willing to risk failure on a franchise that jibes at the missteps and flops repeatedly made with big budget movies. Their gamble paid off.

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Hill and Tatum match each other stride for stride with excellent chemistry. Again, Tatum shows off surprising comedic chops while Hill continues to thrive with his understated brand of humor. The supporting cast is well-rounded and really earn their laughs, whether it’s stoner twins Keith and Kenny Yang (The Lucas Brothers) across the hall or chillax quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell). Every character gets their chance to shine with a few amusing cameos from the first film. Ice Cube gets more screentime this go around and is uproarious as the forthright, grating captain.

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The real eye-opener is Jillian Bell as Mercedes, Maya’s uptight and out of sight roommate. She’ll sit quietly while Schmidt and Maya have sex or eavesdrop on their private conversations. We can tell that she’s up to something but just can’t put a finger on it. The characters and their dialogue are truly well-written. They’re meant to be crude and outlandish, but they are unexpectedly genuine as well. Hill and Tatum are better this time around and deliver more nuanced performances. These guys aren’t just one note sketches meant to draw laughs. Miller and Lord manage to make us care about them and their partnership.

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The movie runs close to two hours and really feels that long. At one point I figured it was almost over then looked at my phone to realize it still had forty minutes to go. There are countless chase scenes that tend to drag, but that’s really the only complaint worth mentioning. The directors employ so many different visual styles and techniques that you stay engaged. Comedies are meant to produce laughter. That’s their sole purpose. And too few movies today earn their chuckles without resorting to childish physical comedy or simple gross-out gags. 22 Jump Street is a movie for teenagers and adults alike. It’s witty, highbrow, and sincere. The laughs come a mile-a-minute all the way through the end credits (make sure to stay, they’re hilarious). You won’t have a better time at the theater this summer.

“Get this guy some f***** water. He’s black, he’s been through a lot.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

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