Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director(s): Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Peter Stormare, Dave Franco
As is the ambition of every action-comedy sequel, its intention is to be “bigger and better than before”, but 22 Jump Street is fully aware of this and is relentlessly poking fun at itself in its own attempt to surpass the original.
Now, this meta approach to self-mockery has been done to death before; from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), to his career resurging Scream (1996) to Robert Altman’s The Player (1992). Even John Carpenters lacklustre sequel, Escape From L.A (1996), has been argued by some to be a critique of the Hollywood system which enabled the film to be made in the first place. This is argument is justified by the film essentially being a repeat of the original, but with flashier effects and even more elaborate characters. For some, that may be giving the film more credit than is warranted, but it is mentioned because the self-depreciative tone of 22 Jump Street is very much akin to that oft-perceived tone of Escape From L.A.; except, it is not sly about it – it is all up in your face! That is why 22 Jump Street is just as much a riotous comedy as it is an outlandish parody, and it succeeds on both levels.
Following the success of Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko’s (Tatum) unruly high school drug-bust the first time out, ‘22’ naturally sees the duo take their undercover antics to college where a new drug, “W.H.Y.P.H.Y.”, has emerged leading to a fatality on campus. Upon arrival, they again relive the highs and lows of adolescence: from being ostracized, to experiencing astronomical popularity whilst trying to track the supplier of the narcotics. Hill has his familiarly awkward and somewhat reserved demeanour, Tatum has his brawn-over-brains proclivities, and then there is Ice Cube who again graces nearly every conversation with superfluous insults that are directed towards whoever is standing in front of him.
Sound familiar? That is because it is supposed to. After a deliberately over-glossed introduction scene with the two on a stake-out, ‘22’ segues into the main bulk of the movie via a discussion between Schmidt, Jenko and their Deputy (Nick Offerman). This sequence basically sets the rules for what is about to follow in a none-too-subtle fashion; “Double the budget equals double the profits” states the Deputy unflinchingly, whereas Schmidt and Jenko are confabulating over the blatant similarities that their upcoming mission has with their previous one… from the previous film. Here, ‘22’ is basically holding its hands up to its audience and shining a huge spotlight on the fact that all sequels are essentially business ventures. It’s a refreshing candidness and not to mention, hilarious. The film even takes a stab at its own so-dumb-it’s-clever title as a 23 Jump St. building is being serendipitously constructed adjacent to the new headquarters whilst simultaneously bashing the fact that it is a sequel itself – a matter that is returned to in the purposefully overblown end credits sequence, one of the funniest moments of the film.
Sometimes, the calculated familiarities do not quite gain the laughs they brought the first time around. ‘22’s trip sequence is not quite as side-splitting as ‘21’s “H.F.S.” face-melting mayhem, nor are the winking bromantic moments anything we have not seen before. For the majority however, the anarchic and unconventional brotherly chemistry between Tatum and Hill is successfully retained. Peter Stormare is the main antagonist and despite him not possessing the infectious piss ‘n’ vinegar charisma of Rob Riggle from the first movie, his casting is actually one of the smartest elements of the movie. The Swedish character actor has played his role in this film hundreds of times before – from Bad Boys II (2003), to The Last Stand (2012) to the underrated How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2012) – he is the go-to slimy drug lord/mercenary/standard movie rapscallion with a thick foreign accent. If his casting was intentional for this reason, then it is another reason why 22 Jump Street is right on the money.
All in all, the film is not a vitriolic attack on sequels or Hollywood as a whole – it is just being daft and playful with such a curbed topic. 22 Jump Street has basically gone for broke and, rather surprisingly, hit a home run by bettering the first movie in terms of the level of comedy, even if it is not ground-breaking humour by any stretch. If a movie spin-off of a late-80s cop show can be such a critical and commercial success, then why not make a sequel that is essentially the same? Lather, rinse, repeat.
Even though the self-deprecating attitude has been done before, something about a sequel consciously acknowledging its inherent shortcomings in a day and age where insipid Adam Sandler comedies are seemingly coming out quarterly, is rather invigorating. Let us hope that Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Hill and Tatum know to quit when they are ahead and not become the victims of their own indictment; that is unless they have another neat trick up their sleeve.