In David Mitchell’s autobiography, he expresses concern over comedians who want to be more than “just funny” and want to have deeper and more meaningful ideas expressed through their work. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller both support and contradict this statement; earlier this year they made The Lego Movie, a film greenlit by Hollywood for no bigger reason than to sell Danish bricks- in their hands it turned into a weird odyssey that was critical of capitalism and commercialisation, although the message was buried between the sea of pop-culture jokes. 22 Jump Street, the superior sequel to their 2012 cinematic reboot of an 80’s Johnny Depp TV series, also has similar views of commercialisation- the idea of Hollywood making sequels just to make money. 22 Jump Street wants you to KNOW that it’s a sequel; it opens with a “previously on 21 jump street” montage, and takes every opportunity for Nick Offerman and Ice Cube to inform our heroes to do the “exact same thing as the first time- it worked the first time”.
Naturally, the plot is almost identical to the first instalment (although Offerman informs us that “twice the money was spent on this one, in the hope it will be twice as successful”). A drug called WHY-PHY is doing the rounds at a local college, and inept detectives Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) have to resume their fake identities to yet again “infiltrate the dealer, find the supplier”. From there, the plot proceeds almost identically to the first one (although this time the cool/nerdy roles are reversed) and repeatedly calls back to it. When most comedy sequels call back to earlier instalments it’s due to looking back at their glory days when they were funnier and more original- here, it’s simply to try and do it weirder than before. For example, the new jump street headquarters may be more hi-tech, but they still leave a south-east Asian variation of Christ on the building wall, this time in the shape of Vietnamese Jesus. And opposite 22 Jump Street? A building site hosting the banner “23 Jump Street: Opening Soon!”
It’s also more Meta than the original. When references to its sequel status aren’t being made, there are references to the cast members other films, although the fact the second half of the film is identical to the plot of Ride Along (another Ice Cube buddy cop comedy) is surely coincidental. Soon, there are references to films they don’t even have nothing to do with – why the lobster scene from Annie Hall is remade so frequently here is anybody’s guess. It gets so Meta it even begins to foreshadow the cast members’ lives; an entire segment is dedicated to how it isn’t acceptable to jokingly use homophobic slurs in 2014, something which Jonah Hill caused controversy by doing just days before the film opened.
In terms of laughs, Ice Cube steals the entire film by doing his usual shtick, although an extended cameo from Workaholics’ star Jillian Bell (which culminates in a fight scene she misreads as a sex scene) is a worthy inclusion. It goes without saying that Channing Tatum and two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill are both brilliant in their roles- although the outdated opening scene where they try to pass off as Mexicans to infiltrate a cartel is the movie’s clearest weak-spot, especially in a film so boldly original (albeit by being boldly the same as before).
22 Jump Street is funnier than the original, with a high joke rate that will benefit repeat viewings. It is bolder in its action setpieces, at times giving the impression of what a good Michael Bay film could look like, and is conclusive proof that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are two of the best comedy directors working today.