What’s harder than coming up with a big screen comedy hit from a TV drama? Coming up with an as-good sequel, of course. But Phil Lord and Chris Miller, still on an amazing-by-anyone’s-standards roll, have done it with 22 JUMP STREET.
Plot? Well, erm... Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent undercover to college. For further details, see: 21 JUMP STREET. That this merciless rehashing is one of the largest, most-hammered jokes in the film should go without saying. But it never gets old, and Miller & Lord know it.
It’s still a little early to be naming anything the funniest film of the year yet, but the odds for 22 are good. Main reason? The script. In an age where far too many comic actors are relied upon to ‘bring it’ on the day, here is a screenplay packed (by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman) with well-written, well placed gags operating on sometimes genuinely surprisingly levels and depths (let’s not spoil anything, and leave it at “hell has a soundtrack - pay attention”).
It feels like the most boldly cine-literate comedy in ages: a ‘meet-cute’ scene is a work of genius, but bound to fly over the heads of many. Perhaps the only reason it stays in is because there’s another, all-inclusive joke just seconds away.
Then there’s the more obvious (but no less fun) digs – jibing at the photocopied plot of the first film is the raison d’etre for Nick Offerman’s appearance. That's it, and it's enough - these jokes are worth continuing and expanding; after all college today, like high school today, is not like it used to be. Even gags and ideas that have been done before (homoerotic subtext between buddy cops was done seven years prior by HOT FUZZ, and nearly thirty by the Comic Strip’s THE BULLSHITTERS) are chopped and skewed to fresh angles.
The cast remain outstanding: Hill and Tatum, so good in the first film, fit right back into their roles. Ice Cube’s screen time has been amped up, and he works for every second of it – his ‘buffet’ scene shall forever remain a highlight of 2014. Then there’s the newcomers: Amber Stevens is perhaps a little underserved in the love interest straight role, and Peter Stormare’s bad guy is really only given one joke, but Wyatt Russell makes a good impression as a football player and Schmidt’s ‘love’ rival for Jenko’s ‘bro-ffections’. Making the most of limited screen time though is Jillian Bell (from TV’s Workaholics) as Stevens’ awkward dorm-mate. We’ll be seeing more of her in the next few years, guaranteed. The only one who really gets short-changed, with his grand total of one line, is Jon H. Benjamin (voice of TV’s Archer) – hopefully he’ll be turning up somewhere on the DVD.
If there’s a criticism, it’s pacing: the second act is somewhat bloated, so by the time the third approaches you become aware that there are a lot of balls (and a hand grenade) still in the air – but at least, as so often is the case in action comedies, the jokes don’t dry up.
There’s a pretty amazing confidence on display from all involved here. Lord, Miller and their writers know their fans are by now eating out of their hand (one of the few luxuries a sequel affords is a pre-filtered audience), and they feed them well. The trick is making it seem effortless, when there’s clearly a hell of a lot of work and thought gone into this – but that’s the confidence and judgment four straight hits will give you. Long may it continue – and if the end credits gag is anything to go by, they’ve got that sorted.
22 JUMP STREET is released June 5 in Australia, June 6 in the UK, June 13 in the USA and June 19 in New Zealand.