Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)

22 Jump Street (2014)

What a difference a rewatch can make. When I first watched 22 Jump Street on opening night, I thought it was an excellent follow-up to one of the most welcome comedy surprises of the last few years, packed with big laughs and a fun attitude about the fact that it was pretty much a cash-grab sequel. When I saw it again with my family, however... I still thought it was a funny movie, but knowing all of the jokes in advance, the film's weak storyline, villain, and ending came into far sharper focus, which caused its self-referential jokes about sequels to feel a bit hypocritical. Unlike the rest of the people I saw it with, however, I still think this is a worthwhile matinee, even if it carries little value for repeat viewing.

22 Jump Street is, at its core, a comedy sequel about comedy sequels. It acknowledges right from the get-go exactly what it is -- a movie greenlit to cash in on the surprise success of the first one, serving up uninspired retreads of that film's scenarios and jokes on a bigger budget. After the success of the Metro City Police Department's reboot of their old Jump Street program, officers Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) have been promoted, only for Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) to decide to repeat their success with Jump Street after their ventures in undercover police work outside of schools go horribly wrong. Loaded with double the budget and a new HQ in the old Vietnamese church on 22 Jump Street, Hardy sends Jenko and Schmidt to infiltrate Metro City State University and bust a drug ring, which is selling a new designer drug that's already connected to the death of at least one student. If this sounds familiar to you, well, it does to everybody involved in the film as well, as they have tons of fun at the expense of the thoughtless studio exec- sorry, police department bureaucrats who decided to commission an exact copy of the original in the hopes of having lightning strike twice. Jokes are made about Tatum's career trajectory since the first film (even if I thought White House Down was a really good movie). An entire chase scene is devoted to the need to bring the program's bloated budget under control, quickly turning into something more at home in a classic Looney Tunes sketch than a buddy-cop comedy.

Tatum and Hill are as good as they were before, even if their characters are pretty much exaggerations of their cinematic personas (the dumb jock and the nebbish nerd, respectively), with the two of them enjoying great chemistry that the film relies upon to succeed. Anybody who's ever actually experienced college can appreciate their arc, with Jenko and Schmidt's relationship being tested the same way it happens to any friendship after high school, and that arc is the core of this film's storyline. Finding out who the bad guys are is only of secondary importance to this film compared to having Jenko and Schmidt overcome the problems in their friendship, and for the most part Tatum and Hill pull off the bromance wonderfully. The same goes for Ice Cube as the police captain, who gets what is inarguably the funniest scene in the entire film. Again, his range may be pretty limited to hardassed tough guys, but that's exactly what this film calls on him to play, and he does it with flair.

Thing is, it's not content to be that. It mocks lazy sequels like The Hangover Part II that do exactly what I just described, and then goes on to live up to its word and change the formula lest its jokes be just as easily turned back against it. It's also a genuinely good college comedy of a sort that anyone who's actually experienced college can appreciate, with Jenko and Schmidt's relationship being tested the same way it happens to any friendship after high school as they start getting embedded into their cover as college students. Whereas the last movie was about the culture clash between two grown, but still fairly young, men and the new generation of teens, this film is squarely about the two of them and how they deal with post-high school (for lack of a better term) life. You lose touch with your old friends, and as you "find yourself" in college, even the friends you held onto start to fall by the wayside as your interests diverge. As someone who went to college and saw precisely that happen to him and his old friendships, Jenko and Schmidt's relationship just worked for me, and that alone helped sell the film even when its plot started going off the rails.

And oh, does it fly off the rails. Some of the cheekier jokes about crime movie plots were funny at first (the "red herring" bit especially), but as the film wore on, it merely felt like it was calling attention to its own problems. Once the film enters its third act, set on spring break, it turns into a more conventional police action movie and loses the sense of humor about itself that made the rest of the film work. Sure, it still has some funny jokes, but it feels like it's going through the motions, and a second viewing made me spot a fair number of plot holes. The real villain is an afterthought, turning out to be a minor character who only had two scenes before the big reveal; had he/she gotten any manner of development outside of a one-note personality, I'd have had less of a problem with the fact that this film is 112 minutes long. Again, comedies work best when they're short, and while this film isn't nearly as bad in this regard as A Million Ways to Die in the West, by the end I was waiting for it to wrap up.

Score: 3 out of 5

It's a very uneven movie and far from the borderline classic that the first one was, let down by a poor finale and a story that's merely an excuse to get people moving. However, the jokes and the core bromance between Tatum and Hill are damn good, enough to make this worth a viewing if you don't have much else to do.

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