Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are having a pretty great year. They directed a family friendly animated movie that became one of the biggest box office hits of 2014. When I wrote about The Lego Movie, I said, “If there’s anything that could have been more of a lazy, cynical, nostalgia based cash grab than a movie based on a cheesy 80s TV show, it’s a movie based on a kids’ toy. But like 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie has too much genuine affection for its characters and history, to ever be lazy, cynical, or nostalgically cash grabby.”
Now, after already conquering the PG market in 2014, they’re back to kill it R rated style with a surprisingly great sequel to a surprisingly great franchise opener. Making 21 Jump Street anything even close to decent would have been a tough enough task. Following it up with a sequel? There are so many ways that 22 Jumps Street could have been terrible. Somehow, Lord and Miller avoid them all.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go undercover to bust a drug ring, selling some new, designer drug to students. If this sounds familiar, then I guess you’ve seen 21 Jump Street. But that’s kind of the point. While The Hangover Part 2 lazily rehashed its original story and tried to convince us we were seeing something new, 22 Jump Street makes every joke about its own rehashery before the audience ever gets a chance to.
After their high school adventures in the first movie, Schmidt and Jenko are headed to college. Their nerd / jock dynamic is in full effect once again as Jenko becomes a football star and Schmidt struggles to find his place in this clique heavy world. Trying to find the link between a drug king pin (played by the always great Peter Stormare), and the dealers on campus, they play out the first move beat by beat.
But here’s the thing, 22 Jump Street knows exactly how far to stretch that premise, how many times it can return to the well, how much it can boldly throw its self referential piss pulling in then audiences face. Because the split second before it becomes a little too much, 22 Jump Street leaves the meta stuff behind and becomes its own movie.
With 21 Jump Street, I thought Lord and Miller did the impossible. They took a corny TV show and rebooted it into a movie that was actually funny and really entertaining. They found that perfect balance between tongue in cheek nostalgia and real comedy. They also made me realise Channing Tatum can be hilarious. But now, none of that seems all that impressive. Because with 22 Jump Street, they really did the impossible. They made a comedy sequel that builds on the original to be smarter, funnier and better in every way.