’22 Jump Street’ Gets the Sequel Right

It’s a tricky thing, a sequel. How do you duplicate the magic of the original, while injecting originality into the new film? It’s a question that 22 Jump Street screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziell and Rodney Rothman clearly asked themselves while penning the sequel to 21 Jump Street and one they share with the audience. There is an awareness about the pitfalls of sequels and franchises that runs throughout 22 Jump Street from its opening “previously on” montage to a series of meta-jokes about things being “always worse the second time” and ending with a hilarious credits sequence about possible future Jump Street sequels. 22 Jump Street is as silly as expected, sure, but it’s also wickedly smart.

Following their success as undercover high school students, Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, respectively) have graduated to college. But after a smuggling kingpin slips through their fingers in a hilarious opening sequence, they find themselves back at Jump Street. However this time their headquarters are across the street at–you guessed it–22 Jump Street. For the second go ’round, Schmidt and Jenko are sent to college, tasked with catching the distributor of a dangerous drug called WHYPHY, equal parts Adderall and ecstasy.

Plenty of familiar faces return for 22, Hill and Tatum, of course, as well as Nick Offerman as the Deputy Chief of Police, Ice Cube as Schmidt and Jenko’s caption. But Schmidt and Jenko’s new surroundings provide the opportunity for a new cast of colorful characters including Zook (Wyatt Russell), Jenko’s beer-guzzling BFF who recruits him to the MC State football team; Maya (Amber Stevens), Schmidt’s ill-advised love interest; Keith and Kenny Lucas as a delightful pair of stoner twins; and Mercedes (Jillian Bell), Maya’s strange and intense roommate.

A sequel full of meta-jokes about sequels could easily drown in its own self-awareness, but 22 Jump Street knows just when to throw in a bit of good old fashioned slapstick to lighten the mood. Credit certainly goes to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but Hill and Tatum prove here that they are a comic duo of Laurel and Hardy proportions. The script calls for some pretty absurd jokes: Hill has to perform an improvised slam poem which is an instant classic in the vein of Will Ferrell’s flute solo in Anchorman, plus Hill and Tatum deliver some masterful physical comedy, especially during an opening chase scene and during a fraternity hazing ritual. Throughout 22, Hill and Tatum throw themselves into each joke with what can only be described as gonzo aplomb. The simple fact is that they look like they’re having the time of their lives and it’s contagious.

The whole film is a delightful ride, smarter than it has to be and at the same time sillier than you’d expect. It’s full of whimsical homages,when is the last time the same movie made references to Annie Hall and classic cartoons? It’s clear that everyone involved loved making this movie, it’s a good thing audiences will surely love it as well.