Wednesday, June 18, 2014

22 Jump Street

22 JUMP STREET (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014)

A glance at Hollywood studios’ release schedules fat with sequels, remakes, and reboots conveys the message that if at first you succeed with something, repeat until you’ve wrung every last cent out of it. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller achieved the unlikely in guiding an adaptation of the late 1980s/early ‘90s TV series 21 JUMP STREET to creative and financial success, making 22 JUMP STREET a given. Like many follow-ups, this one essentially hits all of the same beats that worked before while tweaking the specifics enough to avoid being a complete rehash. The difference in 22 JUMP STREET is that screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman call attention to the business of show with meta and comedic commentary on the nature of sequels.

Fresh off their effective undercover work as high school students, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) graduate to an assignment that sends them to college. Once again Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) tasks them with finding a drug supplier, but when it comes to social navigation, this time the script gets flipped. Schmidt was in his element in high school while Jenko failed to fit into the cool crowd. At Metro City State Jenko blends in easily, buddying up to quarterback and possible campus dealer Zook (Wyatt Russell). Schmidt struggles to make a positive impression on Zook and his fraternity brothers, leaving him to hang out with art majors like Maya (Amber Stevens), who lives with the girl whose former roommate’s death from the drug generated their investigation.

Whether it’s because duplicating the original film’s structure and plot points is the easiest option or the audience is anticipated not to care, 22 JUMP STREET spares no opportunity to point out the crass recycling in sequels. Like Schmidt’s hilarious stab at slam poetry at open mic night, itself a callback to his audition in the first JUMP STREET, the film deconstructs the very thing it’s engaging in. Winking acknowledgements of an unnecessary bigger budget and narrative repetitions avoid being cutesy excuses for screenwriting laziness because the ruthless jokes consistently hit their marks. In its own way 22 JUMP STREET is a work of film criticism that mocks the lack of originality in endeavors like this. When Jenko drills several holes in a small area for hidden cameras, it’s not unlike an industry that time and again mines a diminished number of established properties for box office returns.

Lord and Miller started as directors in animation with the TV series CLONE HIGH and moved on to films with CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and THE LEGO MOVIE. They bring some of their cartoon sensibility to 22 JUMP STREET. An early action setpiece atop a moving truck turns the heroes into Looney Tunes made flesh, and a drug trip sequence places them side by side in exaggerated scenery for their contrasting experiences. Perhaps their work in animation explains why a significant amount of the humor is visual. Through editing and framing, sometimes in split screen, they compare Jenko and Schmidt’s vastly different physical abilities with amusing results. Jokes in the background, like a hall named after fonts and a sped-up chase in front of the Benjamin Hill Center for Film Studies, are there for viewers to discover than have hammered home. Lord and Miller assume a greater amount of audience perceptiveness than other broad comedies that repeat and explain jokes for the less engaged. Creed’s “Higher” plays during Schmidt’s bad trip, but it’s never pointed out, just left there for the viewer to pick up on the implication that it’s what is playing in hell.

Tatum and Hill have great comedic chemistry as the mismatched stud and schlub, and the performances are again a large part of the film’s appeal. Tatum in particular is endearingly funny playing a big dummy who mangles words like annals and carte blanche and tries on a ridiculous, pinched accent when called upon to follow Schmidt’s lead in a meeting with criminals. The verbal humor comes in flurries and is epitomized when Jillian Bell’s Mercedes works Schmidt like a speed bag with her quips about his age. Despite all of the wisecracks and visual gags, the funniest bit comes in a character-based scene at parents’ weekend. 22 JUMP STREET makes no bones about repeating what worked the first time around and suggests there could be an endless crop of installments. If this film series can continue to deliver more of the same consistent laughs, keep ‘em coming.

Grade: B

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