“22 Jump Street” just might be the most self-aware sequel ever made, including “Muppets Most Wanted” where there was an entire song about doing a sequel. Nick Offerman’s Deputy Chief Hardy tells returning stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum that nobody cared about the Jump Street reboot. Against all the odds, though, it ended up being a success. Now expectations are high and the program has been doubled in budget. It’s also been moved across the street from 21 Jump Street to 22 Jump Street. In another couple years, it will likely be moved back across the street next door at 23 Jump Street.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, both of whom are fresh off the success of “The LEGO Movie,” seem to know all the mistakes filmmakers typically make with sequels. Some just make the same movie over again like with “The Hangover: Part II” or make something that barely resembles the original like “The Hangover: Part III.” “22 Jump Street” finds just the right balance, staying close enough to the original concept while keeping enough new blood flowing. It might not be an improvement over “21 Jump Street.” What is, though, is a clever satire of sequels, the first film, other cop movies, and even the TV series that inspired this franchise.
Hill’s Schmidt and Tatum’s Jenko are back to go undercover as college students this time around. Their mission is to find the supplier for a new drug called WHYPHY (WiFi), which is becoming accessible at every university around the country. Schmidt and Jenko tell themselves that this case is going to be different and they aren’t just going to repeat themselves. To their dismay, however, they start to hit the same exact beats over again from the over-the-top car chase, to falling for a girl, to falling in with another crowd. While “22 Jump Street” might follow virtually the same formula as “21 Jump Street,” what sets it apart is its meta approach and that the actors aren’t just there to pickup easy paychecks.
Hill and Tatum are still fully dedicated to their roles as their unlikely bromance becomes as complicated and dysfunctional as ever. But the real scene-stealer once again is Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson, who nails every one-liner that comes out of his foul mouth. If only Ice Cube could have gotten dialog this funny in “Ride Along,” which you should all be ashamed for making a hit by the way. “22 Jump Street” even finds time to bring back Rob Riggle’s castrated Mr. Walters and Dave Franco’s Eric, now behind bars together and alleged jailbird lovers.
Although the returning cast members are as great as ever, most of the new characters don’t leave that much of an impression. Wyatt Russell plays a meathead jock that acts as a kindred spirit to Jenko, but he’s not all that interesting. Amber Stevens is lovely and nice as Schmidt’s love interest, but is also kind of a bore. To be fair, her character does at least play a part in one of the film’s best twists. Maybe I’m just missing Brie Larson. The only new character who stands out that much is Jillian Bell as Mercedes, that one stuck-up college girl who thinks she’s superior and let’s everyone know it.
Ah well, these character aren’t the focus of the film anyway. It’s all about Hill and Tatum and their chemistry remains completely off the charts. Although both are fully aware this is a sequel, they wisely never actually wink to the camera and let us know that they know. They’re the reason why “22 Jump Street” isn’t just a successful sequel, but a successful standalone film as well. It’d be fun to see them together one more time for “23 Jump Street,” although the hilarious end credits pretty much exhaust every conceivable idea this series could ever do. Maybe that means they’re actually going to have some artistic integrity and quit while they’re ahead. In any case, “22 Jump Street” has more artistic integrity than any sequel to a remake of a TV show than you’d ever expect.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.