Try to think of a sequel to a great comedy movie that was just as good as the first. You may be able to think of a couple examples, but they are certainly few and far between when compared to the plethora of failed attempts to make a franchise from what worked well as a stand-alone product. So it’s certainly reasonable to worry that 22 Jump Street would befall the same fate, but I come bearing good news: it’s hilarious, if not funnier than the first film. Where the first film was built on a meta-joke about how reviving a short-lived 1980s TV show as a modern film was a stupid idea (and paradoxically was a huge success), the second film is itself a giant meta-joke about the formulaic nature of sequels, calling attention to how much its basic plot is just like the first film, while still remaining fresh with new character arcs and even more hilarious writing.
If you’ve seen 21 Jump Street (which you definitely should if you want to fully appreciate most of this film’s self-referential humor), then you already know the basic premise. Young-looking cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) infiltrate a learning institution (this time a college campus) in order to track down a new drug’s dealer and supplier. What’s brilliant about the set-up this time around though is that the film is constantly breaking the fourth wall to refer to how much this is exactly like the events of the first film, while excessively flaunting the film’s bigger budget by needlessly having the most expensive set-pieces imaginable and then drawing attention to them. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the absolute masters of these sorts of industry-stabbing shenanigans, proving time and again that they know how to turn a stupid premise into a hilarious study of film-making’s lazier and corporate-driven elements.
But even without the meta-humor, the film is still incredibly solid in its own right, playing role reversal with its main characters so as not to rehash every element of the original film. In 21 Jump Street, Schmidt is a loser-turned-cool-kid while Jenko ends up living in the land of the nerds, but in 22 Jump Street, Jenko ends up fitting in like never before as he joins frat life, and Schmidt is pushed to the lonely sidelines as he feels like he’s losing his best friend. This is a clever variation on old themes that still comes across as fresh and new due to very natural character progression and sly winks to the fact that we would normally expect them to go through the same arcs as in the first film. And, of course, Hill and Tatum are one of the great comedy duos of this decade, with a chemistry that is undeniably rich.
I would be remiss to point out that there’s one scene in the film that revisits the villains of the first movie, but it relies heavily on a very offensive trans joke and doesn’t really add much to the overall narrative. However, it’s a small, ugly blemish on what is otherwise a fantastically funny film. It plays with your expectations in all the right ways and ultimately turns what should have been a horrible failure into a great success.
23 Jump Street has been announced, but Lord and Miller won’t be directing. They’re only acting as producers. Will lightning only strike twice, or can a third time be just as charming? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.