By Ross Bonaime
21 Jump Street worked incredibly well because it relied on how ridiculous the idea of adapting an 80s TV drama about undercover teen cops would be updated into a comedy. Making a sequel to 21 Jump Street seems equally – if not more – ridiculous. So instead of relying on the nostalgia of the original, 22 Jump Street decides to not just parody the idea of sequels, but also itself, its stars and basically anything else it can get its hands on. It’s a format that works really well for this now-franchise, even if it does lead to a lack in surprises.
22 Jump Street picks up with Schmidt and Jenko heading to college, trying to infiltrate the dealers and find the suppliers of a new drug called “WHYPHY.” Along the way, their friendship has to fight to survive due to new people and challenges in their lives, love interests and the fear of one person holding down the other. So basically, it’s just like 21 Jump Street and the film never lets you forget that it is completely aware of that fact. Whenever they try to deviate from the familiar plan, their captain interjects that they should just “do it like last time.”
The film’s biggest strength of parodying itself is also it’s biggest weakness. By commenting on the familiarity and continuing of the franchise, 22 Jump Street finds some of its funniest jokes in everything from the “previously on 21 Jump Street” that starts the film, to the ideas for dozens of sequels and merchandise that run through the credits. Yet now there’s also the anticipation of 22 hitting the same notes at 21, sometimes with diminishing results. For example, one of the biggest laughs from the original film came from a drug trip that caused Rob Riggle’s eyebrows to literally wriggle all over his face and led Channing Tatum to proclaim “fuck you science!” So when the inevitable sequel to this joke appears, it’s a letdown that can’t compete with what came before it.
Thankfully there’s plenty of other jokes scattered throughout. In fact 22 Jump Street might be the best surprise parody film since The Cabin in the Woods. In the first five minutes alone, there’s references to Annie Hall, Bad Boys II and Clone High, some incredibly obvious, with others being smartly well-hidden. There’s plenty of jokes that might take multiple viewings to catch and an insane amount of callbacks to the original that warrants a double feature.
This has become director’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s wheelhouse, taking an idea that may not sounds like it’ll work and turning it into something amazing. 21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball and The Lego Movie all felt like thinly-veiled studio purchases that became comments on exactly that. They’ve also been great at making their films not just one type of film, but a multitude of styles thrown on top of each other. 22 Jump Street isn’t just a cop movie, it’s a buddy film, an action film, a college film, a parody, a meta playground and even slightly romantic at times.
22 Jump Street might not seem like the best idea and the entire team knows that and makes the usual flaws of sequels work brilliantly. Even though they’ve caught lightning in a bottle twice – even though it might not be as bright the second time around – fingers crossed they don’t ruin their surprises successes with a third go around.