When the original “21 Jump Street” feature was released a year and a half ago, I wrote that, given its lame TV origins, “the movie is better than it has any right to be.” If there’s one thing more craven and pointless than resurrecting dead TV shows for the big screen, it’s totally commercially driven sequels. (Well, actually, there’s another contender: totally commercially driven remakes of films that were fine the first time around, e.g., “The Amazing Spider-Man.”)
Even though the new “22 Jump Street” has the dual strike against it of being a sequel to a TV show revival; and even though, in terms of plot, it’s pretty much a remake of its predecessor, I must once again say that it’s better than it has any right to be.
The justification for the title is that the squad has had to leave their Korean church headquarters and move across the street to a former Vietnamese church. The chief (Nick Offerman) does an updated, sequel-centered version of his previous meta-commentary about reviving police operations that weren’t so successful the first time; and Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) tells them that, thanks to the success of their last mission, this time they have a blank check. (When the captain later tells them to cut expenses, Jenko (Channing Tatum), obviously not a French student, says, “But I thought we have cate blanchett.”
This time Jenko and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are sent to college to trace the source of yet another new superdrug (just like last time). Fitting in is tough; all their classmates remark on how old they look. “You look like you’re from an old cop show,” one woman remarks, noting their shirts — “Hawaiian Dads.” Plus: “Tell us what it was like during the war — Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I — any war.” Plus, as Schmidt tells Jenko, “It’s not like it used to be. Things are different since you didn’t go to college.” But Jenko really wants to do well as a student. “I mean, I’m the first one from my family to pretend to go to college.”
Now, here’s what’s strange or interesting or clever or (possibly to some people) discomfiting. The film’s central joke is that Jenko and Schmidt’s friendship is presented completely as though it were a romantic attachment. As they drift apart to new groups of friends and decide to break up — or, in this context, discover different leads and begin to investigate separately — every conversation is couched in classic relationship talk. Nearly all the humor derives from the contrast of these two (presumably) straight cops sounding like lovers with neither of them noticing it.
In other words, in a sense the entire movie is one very long gay joke — a good-natured one, but still pushed awfully far. Bromances in the buddy cop genre almost always have an undercurrent of homoerotic tension, but, in “22 Jump Street,” it’s not an undercurrent. It’s the whole film.
Incidentally, the filmmakers also seem to have some sort of negative precognition: they manage, in short order, to make jokes involving Maya Angelou and Tracy Morgan. How’d they see that stuff coming?
Even if it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, it’s definitely in the same ballpark. It may even seem better on a second viewing. The chemistry between the leads is remarkable, even by the standards of a genre that always tries to establish a believable buddy bond.
Perhaps the funniest part of the whole thing is the end sequence that runs during the first part of the closing credits. Once again making fun of the whole notion of this sort of sequel, they manage to come up with an extended series of concepts that may preempt any possibility of there ever being a “23 Jump Street.”
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).