REVIEW: 22 Jump Street

11 06 2014

The archetypal model for the comedy sequel can be summed up in one line from “The Hangover Part II,” perhaps one of the most disparaged to date: “It happened again.”  Comedies, for whatever reason, seem to recycle their material with a particularly accelerated velocity.

22 Jump Street” essentially takes the model of the sequels to “The Hangover” but makes it not just tolerable but also enjoyable by injecting a level of self-awareness akin to only “This is The End.”  The framework of Michael Bacall’s script, co-written with Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman (with story by Jonah Hill), merely inverts “21 Jump Street” and swaps out college for high school.

This time, Channing Tatum’s Jenko gets to ride atop the social order of Metro City State, immediately accepted by the jocks and gaining an inroad for the all-important fraternity bid.  Jonah Hill’s Schmidt, on the other hand, gets caught up in tricky collegiate sexual politics and experiences the isolation that often comes with being transplanted into a sprawling campus. And more or less, the events play out just like they did in high school.

In some ways, the similarity is frustrating, but it also rings true to life itself.  I’m approaching my senior year in college, and I’ve learned that the same narratives that I thought people had outgrown in high school have tended to repeat themselves.  We all rush so quickly to the next stage of our lives that the reflection necessary to gain maturity seems lost sometimes.

That’s probably not what the filmmakers of “22 Jump Street” had in mind, especially given all their winks and nods to the very nature of the events taking place in a movie – in particular a sequel.  This meta humor is quite clever, and the tongue-in-cheek sensibility pervading the film makes the shameless repetition worth another spin.

Yet while this newfangled irony gives the film some justification for existing, it ultimately does not power the movie.  That job is still carried out by the strengths of the 2012 reboot: the spot-on portrayals of social orders, the nuanced dialogue, and the relationship between the leads.  Rather than going bigger or broader like “The Hangover” series, “22 Jump Street” dives deeper into its own world and pulls out rich observations.

22 Jump Street

The series is first and foremost a comedy, so it exaggerates environments and characters accordingly for hilarious effect.  Even so, it manages to provide a completely accurate depiction of what it’s like to be in college right now (save maybe the fashionability of a pooka shell necklace).  “22 Jump Street” rang so true to my own experiences that at times, I felt like I was watching a movie of my own life. The film exhibits an uncanny understanding of how the collegiate landscape affects the way we relate to others and understand ourselves.

With this grasp of social dynamics, it can successfully boil groups down to accurate archetypes.  “22 Jump Street” also has the remarkable power to frame common occurrences in terms both hilarious and honest.  Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have undoubtedly crafted a definitive college film for our time.

By brilliantly engineering this world, they enable the dynamite duo of Hill and Tatum to further explore their unconventional chemistry.  Much of the film is devoted to intensive analysis of their relationship.  Our reactions as viewers is similar to their own within “22 Jump Street,” wondering how on earth it worked in the first place and whether the bond would be strong enough to sustain a second outing.

To be quite honest, I remain stumped at how this unique bromance sustains itself.  And so long as I find myself consistently in stitches watching the “Jump Street” movies, I don’t feel the need to pick it apart and demystify the most refreshing buddies on film.  “22 Jump Street” gives Jonah Hill plenty of moments to shine in his trademark long-winded spiels that try to over-explain everything, just as it provides Channing Tatum the chance to effortlessly speak in a language riddled with malapropisms.

While Hill remains a bit of a sardonic smart aleck throughout, Tatum gets to once again reveal real vulnerability and surprising sensitivity.  “22 Jump Street” proves to be another showcase of the remarkable precision of craft he now possesses.  Keep in mind, this is a guy I once wrote off as having charisma equivalent to that of a trash can in my review “The Vow;” I even suggested leave acting altogether when assessing “The Dilemma.”

Tatum’s remarkable talents coming to light and proving people like me dead wrong seem in line with the theme of “22 Jump Street” itself: there’s humor and heart to be found anywhere if you dig deep enough with the right team and equipment.  And as it turns out, apparently the same site can be mined twice for a comparable yield.  B+3stars



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