Jonah Hill’s Schmidt and Channing Tatum’s Jenko, having gone undercover through high school – posing as students much younger than themselves – and consequently uncovering a drug ring, are pulled back in by Ice Cube’s brilliantly angry Captain Dickson to pull off pretty much exactly the same investigation, by the exact same means, and, by proxy, act out the exact same plot as the original. From the start, the movie plays with the conceit of the sequel – their inevitability, their in-built swagger to be bigger than the original – to hilarious extent; when sending the couple into college, where they must yet again fraternise with fellow students in order to track down the drug dealers, the many tropes of sequelisation are exploited in brilliantly over-the-top fashion, while the nuanced laughs of the first film rest intact. And so, everything is in place once again; the easy-to-see-through fake identities; the push-and-pull of new friends and enemies; the jokes. Oh boy, the jokes.
At the core of 22 Jump Street, of course, is the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko; firmly in the post-honeymoon period of their friendship, cracks are starting to appear. Both attempt to fill them with BFFs and girlfriends, and this friction serves up some of the biggest laughs of the movie – yet the way the two drift apart, then come back to one another, is endlessly touching. Hill and Tatum have grown in their roles, especially the latter, further proving his comic timing as musclebound sweetie Jenko, while Hill continues to blend dourness and sarcasm to a near artform as Schmidt; a particular glance, or even a small shuffle of body language, is enough to trigger a deep-set belly laugh, thank to the immaculate conception of these two wannabes who, at the end of the day, only have each other.
Despite these two powerhouse faces of 22 Jump Street, the true stars of the piece are directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and writer Michael Bacall; between them, they orchestrate set-ups, comedic throughlines and massive pay-offs for every minute of the film’s 112, ensuring that every moment zings with jokes based not on situation, but on character – the mark of the best comedies. Perhaps most gut-bustingly hilarious is the final sequence during Spring Break, which expertly balances action and laughs to endlessly satisfying, and increasingly funny effect. There is a sense of near-bloatedness to proceedings, but every single gag lands; there was clearly too much good stuff to leave out, which in the case of the recent, two-hour long Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, is a concept they got confused with implementing a joke for its own sake – not because it was actually that funny.
In an age where the conveyor belts of Seth McFarlane and Adam Sandler continually spew lowest-common-denominator movies posing as comedy, the team behind 22 Jump Street, one of the best comedy sequels in recent memory, should be doubly proud for espousing genuine wit, and for doing the most courageous – and commercially dangerous – thing in art; looking at oneself with a skeptical eye, and laughing. Hard. It’s a near-revelation in comic writing, editing, and acting, and as a result, represents something very rare these days; comedy that boasts a heart just as big as its laughs.
22 Jump Street is out Friday 6th June.