Phillip Lord and Chris Miller have become masters of the impossible. They made The Lego Movie more than just a 90-minute toy ad, but a commentary on individualism and the “Chosen One” narrative that has dominated blockbuster filmmaking. They turned 21 Jump Street from a forgettable TV drama into one of the best comedies in recent memory. When their names came up in connection with Ghostbusters 3, I thought perhaps there was hope for the project. After they passed on the project, my interest waned considerably. As history has proven time and time again, comedy sequels are often a step backwards, telling the same jokes in a slightly different manner to diminished laughs. With 22 Jump Street, Lord & Miller have made a truly hilarious comedy sequel that is so incredibly self-aware of the genre’s trappings.
The film opens with a “Previously on 21 Jump Street” flashback, quickly recapping the first installment. After Jenko (Channing Tatum) & Schmidt (Jonah Hill) fail to break up a black market exotic animal ring, they’re called into Deputy Chief Hardy’s (Nick Offerman) office. Hardy, as he did in the previous installment, explains their new assignment while simultaneously commenting on the demand for the exact same thing as before. Because we have to do the exact same thing, Jenko & Schmidt go undercover at college in search of the manufacturer of a new designer drug – whyphy (wi-fi). Then the film plays out almost exactly as the first one, but the film’s keen self-awareness about this prevents the film from feeling like a played out rehash of the previous film (see: The Hangover Part II).
Tatum & Hill are a remarkable comedy duo, the two playing off each other with such a natural ease. They sell the characters’ relationship wholesale – their partnership, their bromance, the tension that builds in their bromance. As Captain Dickson, Ice Cube steals quite a few of the scenes he’s in, especially during a certain awkward brunch.
The meta commentary that drives 22 Jump Street is what makes it stand out. The script by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, with a story by Hill and Bacall, constantly borders on breaking the 4th wall. It’s not enough that they’re aware of the trapping of the comedy sequel, they also take aim at the unimaginative executives with constant references to the film’s budget and the necessity of doing the “exact same thing.” Unlike a majority of today’s comedy films, 22 Jump Street isn’t driven by improv. Working from the tight script, Lord & Miller use cinematic devices such as split screen to visually build upon well-written jokes, not just shot/reverse shot. The laughs don’t stop when the film ends. Stay through the credits for even more meta commentary.
I’ve tried to keep this review brief because I don’t want to spoil a single moment of this film. I stopped taking notes about a half-hour in the film because I just wanted go along for the ride. The joke density of this film alone requires multiple viewings. I’m not entirely sure if 22 Jump Street is better than the first film, but it is definitely the only comedy sequel I know of that matches the first installment. Lord & Miller: masters of the impossible.