Monday, June 16, 2014

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street
Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.
Written by: Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman & Jonah Hill based on the television series by Patrick Hasburgh & Stephen J. Cannell.
Starring: Jonah Hill (Schmidt), Channing Tatum (Jenko), Peter Stormare (The Ghost), Wyatt Russell (Zook), Amber Stevens (Maya), Jillian Bell (Mercedes), Ice Cube (Captain Dickson), The Lucas Brothers (Keith & Kenny Yang), Nick Offerman (Deputy Chief Hardy), Jimmy Tatro (Rooster).

Does it make it okay to be a stupid, pointless sequel when a movie knows it’s a stupid, pointless sequel and spends much of its running time mocking itself for being a stupid, pointless sequel? In the case of 22 Jump Street, I think the answer is yes. The 2012 original film was a stupid, pointless reboot of a mostly forgotten TV show from the 1980s, which mocked itself for being a stupid, pointless reboot of a mostly forgotten TV from the 1980s – and the results were, for the most part hilarious. The same holds true for its sequel – which knows it’s silly to force the same two characters into essentially the same situation, and hope for the same results, and it knowingly nods and winks at the audience throughout the film for it. This doesn’t make 22 Jump Street some great, original film – but it makes it a lot of fun. Just like the fact that the movie spends much of its time mocking how its two main characters are straight males who are in love with each other, but have to spend much of the time acting as if they’re not. A daring movie would eventually follow through on all the homoerotic subtext that the movie blatantly pokes fun at – but this isn’t that movie.

The movie basically tells the exact same story as the first movie does – with Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) having to go undercover to find the dealer of a new designer drug on a school campus. Because they look too old for high school now – even though the same thing was true two years ago – this time they’re sent to University – even though they look ridiculously too old for that as well. The movie has fun with that – having one character, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), mock Jonah Hill for looking like a 40 year old man as one of their running jokes. Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman, playing the Nick Offerman role at his most Nick Offerman-esque) tells them to do exactly the same thing as they did last time. That’s all anyone wants to see, and that’s their only assignment.

The plot is inconsequential really – what matters in a film like this are the jokes and 22 Jump Street hits on a higher level than most movies of this sort. The jokes in the film are actually funny way more often than they’re not, and in a film without a lot of ambition other than to be funny, that works just fine. The film has a lot of fun by introducing another character – Zook (Wyatt Russell) – who is a lot like Jenko. They have so much in common they are practically clones of each other. Wouldn’t they be perfect together? At least far better than Schmidt and Jenko, who are polar opposites. This subplot in the movie is basically straight out a romantic comedy – and the movie knows this, and pokes knowing fun at it (the way the two of them meet is a hilarious twist on the “Meet Cute” of romantic comedies).

The movie basically works because Hill and Tatum are so good together. When the first movie came out, this was surprising – Tatum was a beefcake actor, who had mainly done a dance movie and some action movies, but could he do comedy? He was hilarious in 21 Jump Street, and proved he could. And he’s hilarious here as well. It isn’t a surprise this time around however – which slightly dulls the impact.

That’s what you could say about the movie as well. The first movie was a pleasant surprise – because it was far better than any movie based on a silly 1980s TV show really had any right to be. 22 Jump Street is far better than any sequel to a movie based on a silly 1980s TV show has any right to be as well – but this time, we aren’t surprised – so while I enjoyed the movie, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first time around.

The movie has had a big opening weekend – which is a pretty good indication that there will be another movie in this franchise – although a large part of me hopes they stop here. The series reminds me of Scream – where the first movie was a pleasant surprise, skewering the horror genre, while still being a horror film, and the second film did an excellent job at skewering horror sequels, while still being a horror sequel. By the third Scream however, the well had run dry. They tried, unsuccessfully, to mine fun out of the closing chapters of trilogies, and it didn’t work. The Jump Street series has now made two movies that are far better than they probably should be. I don’t think they should press their luck any further.

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