By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
The film “21 Jump Street” was a hip, focused, comic homage to the 1980s TV series. “22 Jump Street” is an unfocused potpourri of physical humor, sight gags and shtick that is shamelessly uproarious.
In this sequel, undercover cops, Officer Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Officer Jenko (Channing Tatum), who are in their 30s, infiltrate a college campus masquerading as students to investigate the death of a coed who died from a new designer drug called WHY PHY. The guys stick out like the Golden Girls at a rave. They’re almost old enough to have grandchildren. Can they get over on savvy adolescents?
The only way to make this premise work is to ignore the obvious or embrace it. The creative team of writers (Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman) and directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “21 Jump Street,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) judiciously decided on the latter. They officially make this ribald comedy, a spoof on a spoof using a we’re-making-fun-of-ourselves, kitchen-sink approach to the humor. The guys are repeatedly called out by students for their crow’s feet and puffy, thirtysomething faces. Jenko is dumber than a bedpost (“I’m the first person in my family ever to pretend to go to college.”) and Schmidt is too smart and overly sensitive. Visual effects like subtitles and split screens, wacky car chase action scenes with a golf cart pursued by a menacing Hummer and bits where a plump blonde and Schmidt exchange punches in an all-out brawl add to a general tone of total mayhem.
The Jump Street police headquarters have been updated and are quite luxurious. The boys still take orders from Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), whose cranky demeanor seems to have improved only a tad as he bellows commands from a swank new glass office. Says Schmidt, “It’s like a cube, made out of ice.” (Wink, wink). As the undercover dicks start their campus investigation, they take on the guise of two brothers, “Brad and Doug McQuaid.” Like most freshmen, they fall into cliques. Jenko becomes BFFs with frat president and handsome quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell—Kurt Russell and Gold Hawn’s offspring). Schmidt hangs with bohemian nerds who are into slam poetry and becomes romantically infatuated with the very sexy Maya (Amber Stevens, “The Amazing Spider-Man”). He’s in love; she’s only into hookups.
The investigation continues and all suspects, crooks, drug deals and roads lead to spring break in a Mexican beach town (which looks suspiciously like San Juan, Puerto Rico). Queue the climatic music (Mark Mothersbaugh composer), alert the cinematographer (there’s a high-flying helicopter sequence for Barry Peterson director of photography), tighten the editing (Keith Brachman and David Rennie)—this is going to be a bumpy ride.
The chemistry between Tatum and Hill seems comfortable and genuine, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. They are in sync and improvise well together. As Jenko’s budding friendship with Zook blossoms, Schmidt feels left out. Tatum and Hill play the on-the-ropes bromance in need of couples’ counseling to the hilt. Their I’m-so-into-you, you-hurt-my feelings, maybe-we-should-move-on emotional roller coaster is pukey sentimental and comical. Hill is deadpan serious throughout, and Tatum’s dumb jock rants are just as funny.
The leads are well supported by a cast that must have gotten the same “work the comedy to the hilt” memo. Standup comic twins Keith and Kenny Lucas (Fox TV’s animated series Lucas Bros. Moving Co) play half-black, half-Chinese stoner brothers lost in a perpetual cloud of drugs. Jillian Bell (“Bridesmaids” and TV’s Workaholics) as Maya’s nosy roommate Mercedes should have had the nickname “Coitus Interruptus.” Wyatt Russell’s Zook is so All-American vacuous you want to stick him with a pin to see if he is real. And Mr. Ice Cube turns his perpetually angry persona up several notches in a restaurant scene where he discovers the Schmidt has been dipping his straw in the wrong chocolate shake (read between the lines). He throws a tantrum that is truly primal and the funniest bit in the movie.
If this sequel is guilty of anything it is of flaunting total excess in the name of comedy. In between gasping for air, as you laugh at the absurdity of it all, you might not care that the directors, writers, two leads and wacky supporting cast like to wallow in their own humor. Why would you? They seem to be enjoying themselves.
Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.