The fact that the 21 Jump Street movie worked was a miracle. To attempt to do it again is insane and yet the sequel works entirely because the folks behind 22 Jump Street understand that fact better than anyone. This is a meta comedy piss-take on the idea of Hollywood sequels. It’s a movie that knows bigger isn’t better, that repeating tropes never leads to improvement, and that the entire project has no reason to exist other than to copy past success. So, it does all those things just to prove the point. The concept is pretty brilliant and in the hands of meta movie maestros Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who directed 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie), it’s a pretty damn hilarious loogie in Hollywood’s face that is a welcome source of parody in the midst of a sequel-heavy summer movie season. The film isn’t quite as tightly conceived or constructed as its predecessor, most likely because the team of writers, led by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall, didn’t have as much time to craft this sublime silliness. And yet they get away with it all because messy, over long, and unfinished scripts are just one more aspect of sequels that everyone behind 22 Jump Street gleefully mocks.
The movie opens with a hilarious “Previously On” montage to both set up the TV origins of the franchise one last time and remind audiences of how 21 Jump Street also stomped all over high school comedy tropes. From there, the sequel’s satirical target becomes the original movie and itself. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum open things up with a slapstick car chase on a bigger scale than anything from the first movie and then crack jokes about how it was stupid, expensive, and represents idiotic Hollywood sequel thinking. After that, the ever-angry Ice Cube gives them their new assignment: college. From there, the movie has too much fun pointing out how the leads are too old to pass off as college kids and plays off of their troubled bromance as Tatum finds a new jock bestie and Hill becomes a self-loathing emo freshman. Other college clichés are trotted out, but it’s really all just an excuse for Tatum and Hill to play off their oil n’ water on-screen personas and for Lord and Miller to endlessly mock the conventions of sequels while also delivering them effectively.
From the seemingly stupid title to the brilliant closing montage, 22 Jump Street constantly threatens to be far too self-conscious for its own good. The filmmakers are mocking themselves for making the movie and poking fun at audiences for even wanting to see it. That all sounds too glib and navel gazing to ever work as pop entertainment, but once again Lord and Miller prove to be masters of making movie ideas that shouldn’t work feel like movies that have to exist. Almost all of the sequel jokes they use are brilliant, yet also so obvious that it’s kind of amazing it took this long for comedy filmmakers to exploit them. At the center are of course Hill and Tatum, an ideal mismatched buddy comedy duo in terms of their physical attributes and acting styles. The one major quality they share is a gleeful willingness to mock themselves and they do so mercilessly. Supporting players like Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Peter Stormare, and Jillian Bell all come out swinging for the fences with big laughs, but this is the Hill and Tatum show and once again their unlikely pairing delivers comedy gold (it also certainly doesn’t hurt that the duo clearly like each other in real life and that always translates on screen).
22 Jump Street delivers all of the action that buddy comedy undiscerning audiences could possibly want from the movie, but works for audiences who would never buy a ticket otherwise because of Miller and Lord’s unique style of self-mocking filmmaking. These guys are so good at what they do that they probably could deliver a straight forward goofball cop comedy with ease if they wanted, but the way they’ve turned this franchise into a big winking prank at Hollywood’s expense makes the series special in a way that it never had any right to be on paper. It all builds towards an amazing end credits montage that imagines an entire franchise of 21 Jump Street sequels with eerily cheesy accuracy. The montage is so damn funny that it has to be the end of the series simply because the joke is such a perfect note to exit on. Could this team actually make a 23 Jump Street worth seeing? Probably, but they can’t. This movie is a mic drop that everyone involved has to stand behind. They made a comedy sequel where even the warts and mistakes qualify as homage and parody, whether intentional or not. Attempting to do that again would be a mistake. It’s time to walk away and celebrate the success. There was no reason to expect the 21 Jump Street franchise to be anything other than an expensive mistake. Instead, it’s somehow one of the most creative comedy franchises to be spat out of the Hollywood machine in recent years. Now it’s time for everyone to walk away and think up their next surprise.