"22 Jump Street" is a monument to mocking, a master class in dissing, a parody of pastiche, poking its R-rated finger at social conventions, sequels, stereotypes, football, frats, friends, drugs, sex — even its stars.
In fact, it is impossible to exaggerate how magnanimous its comic malfeasance is. This sequel's spoof of its predecessor's riff on the original 1980s-era buddy-cop TV show coalesces into a raucous, raunchy, irreverent, imperfect riot.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, as officers Jenko and Schmidt, respectively, are back for yet another capricious crime caper. Their chemistry crackles around strains in their bromance (look for an "Annie Hall" reference) and the fallout at the precinct from bungling any case they get.
After a pretty hilarious opening that involves the partners trying to pass as Latino gangstas and a chase sequence that puts the film's action style somewhere between "Mission: Impossible" and "The Three Stooges," Schmidt and Jenko are soon shipped off to college. Their assignment, per Nick Offerman's Deputy Chief Hardy, is to do exactly the same thing they did going undercover in a local high school in "21." Exactly. Just rewind, repeat. Absolutely no thinking outside the box.
That's one of several jabs at the proclivities of Hollywood sequels. Thinking outside the box, however, is exactly what allows "22 Jump Street" to make a brash creative leap that somehow lands on its feet — mostly.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — the guys behind 2012's "21 Jump Street" and "The Lego Movie's" wry animation this year — understand exactly what they've got this time: a solidly implausible story, sight gags galore, endless jokes for the two new freshmen to go sophomoric, all unfolding at breakneck speed.
Screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman do not pull any punches or bypass any punch lines. More of the jokes work than fail. The script is not shy about being rude, crude and politically incorrect with its comedy, but that edge is somewhat softened by the sweet handling of relationships, particularly Schmidt and Jenko's. Despite its general inappropriateness and occasional misfires, "22" is not lazy in its scheming, the crime of so many second acts.
As "22's" story goes, the success of "21's" high school drug bust brought an infusion of cash into the undercover operation. The secret specialty division moved from the vacated church on 21 Jump Street, with its giant Korean Jesus crucifix and its screaming Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), across the street to another vacated church with an even bigger Jesus, this time Vietnamese. Dickson's still in charge, his bite as bad as his bark. But the digs have gone from low tech to high tech, the captain's icy steel and chrome office looking, as so much else in the film, like a punch line waiting to happen.
Indeed, most scenes have something that looks like a set-up for a joke the crew is clearly in on. Cinematographer Barry Peterson, another returning player, has gotten increasingly comfortable with the mayhem. Production designer Steve Saklad, more often found on Jason Reitman films, brings his expertise at creating a sense of place, which helps ground the film. Costume designer Leesa Evans has a lot of fun, the "22" clothes have their own zany appeal. Mark Mothersbaugh's music provides a peripatetic beat to match the pace and the plot; editor David Rennie helps stitch it all together.
At college, Jenko and Schmidt masquerade as students and siblings, neither role remotely plausible. They share a dorm room as they work the case, go to class, rush a fraternity, meet girls, play football. They're after the dealer of a particularly toxic hallucinogen that's already killed one student.
Their main target is known as the Ghost (Peter Stormare) because, well, no one knows what he looks like. But really, the movie's through line is how the best buds' relationship is changing.
The complicating factors are endless. There are unexpected issues with Maya (Amber Stevens), the smart girl Schmidt falls for. There are even more issues with Zook (Wyatt Russell), the college quarterback and frat boy who becomes Jenko's new best friend. He's a suspect, but their tight connection on the football field and off soon threatens the case and more. Meanwhile, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), Maya's caustic new roommate, turns up at the most inopportune times to deliver her verbal assaults. Bell is a scene-stealing crazy woman you won't soon forget.
A great deal of insanity ensues, none of which would work if Tatum and Hill weren't so disarming in their roles. Their level of comfort with the characters and each other helps "22" click. That ease is on excellent display in one particular therapeutic scene.
You might think the laughs are over when the credits start to roll. They aren't. Hang around for a final bit of fun. From first frame to last, "22 Jump Street's" low-brow is definitely, and defiantly, arched.
'22 Jump Street'
MPAA rating: R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Playing: In general release