21 JUMP STREET took me by surprise; while its true that comedy is mostly subjective, comedic reboots of nostalgic television series are usually fodder for the cheap DVD bin at Wal-Mart. Much like the rest of the world, I was surprised at just how much I ended up enjoying 21 JUMP STREET, due in no small part to the finger that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have on the pulse of the modern comedy landscape. Truth told, after the first installment, I didn’t think I could laugh harder at a film; upon viewing 22 JUMP STREET, I’m proud to announce that I was wrong.
Undercover officers Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) are back in school tracking down the drug dealers and suppliers responsible for the proliferation of a designer drug at a local college. If this sounds suspiciously similar to the plot of the first film, then congratulations! You get the joke. 22 JUMP STREET hinges a lot of its humor on the idea of this film as a sequel, taking pot shots at the idea that the buddy cop duo needs to do more of the same since it worked so well the first time. The film never takes itself seriously, maintaining a fresh self-awareness that is able to expertly blend meta humor with a narrative that still builds on the Schmidt / Jenko relationship.
Having developed an odd-couple dynamic in 21 JUMP STREET, Tatum and Hill explore a strengthened relationship that I’m not ashamed to unironically call a bromance. As the film starts, the two have become an inseparable duo, and through the course of the film, they each struggle with the insecurities that they bring to the relationship. Jenko doubts the bond because of their differences, while Schmidt is fearful that Jenko might move on to a more compatible partner. If this sounds like an extended metaphor for a homosexual relationship, then congratulations! You get the film’s other joke.
As a gay man who just happens to be a film fan, I always view ‘gay jokes’ in mainstream films suspiciously. Are they mean-spirited? Are gays included in the laugh, or are we the butt of the joke? The relationship jokes in 22 JUMP STREET never come across as insincere, and obvious care was taken to make the humor inclusive. There’s a refreshing sequence where meat-head Tatum learns about the power of derogatory language, and uses his newfound knowledge to correct a villain’s gay slurs. It is unfortunate that the film is being released right as Jonah Hill is experiencing public backlash for calling a member of the paparazzi a ‘faggot.’ While his word choice was regrettable, I personally found the situation to be a bit overblown. However, having seen the film, it saddens me just how much Jonah Hill undermines the film’s message of inclusion.
Of course, the litmus test for the effectiveness of a comedy is in the amount of humor it packs in to every scene and 22 JUMP STREET certainly delivers. Aside from the self-referential humor, the filmmakers have brought back many of the successful elements of the original. Ice Cube is given a larger role, one that highlights his natural comedic talents, while Dave Franco and Rob Riggle return for a brief, yet memorable, cameo. Of course, newcomers Wyatt Russell and Jillian Bell bring their A-game as well. Perhaps my favorite sequence in 22 JUMP STREET is the ‘meet-cute’ between Wyatt Russell’s athletic charmer Zook and Jenko.
There is a lot to love about 22 JUMP STREET, and while the trailer gives away many of the plot details, this doesn’t feel like a cheat. As both a uproariously funny comedy and as a smart deconstruction of the modern film sequel, 22 JUMP STREET is an unparalleled success, one that I would recommend for just about any audience.
22 JUMP STREET opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, June 13, 2014.
9 / 10