'22 Jump Street' plays sequel conventions for laughs

June 22, 2014

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are slowly cementing themselves as the go-to team for modern self-referential comedy.

Its a bold claim, but the duo, who directed "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," "21 Jump Street," and "The Lego Movie," have quickly created a list of films that are acutely aware of the conventions and trappings of the genre (in both live-action and animated form).

You can add "22 Jump Street" to that list, as it comes out, guns blazing, popping caps in the posterior of all the sequel expectations, but adding a poignant examination of the bromance that develops within.

Sequels come with a number of presumed elements, and "22" addresses them early and often.

Jenko (played by Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (played by Jonah Hill), are still bumbling their way through making arrests. They are obviously way past high school age, and even their current assignment as college students is pushing it (as many fellow classmates point out).

When a bust goes spectacularly (and hilariously) wrong, they are sentback to their chief (played by Nick Offerman), who says they cannot merely replicate their past success. It's a knowing exchange that even takes time to poke fun at Tatum's flop "White House Down."

Given that their current roles aren’t cutting it, they are sent to college to essentially do the same exact assignment as last time, but this time with a bigger budget … for their police department.

It is essentially the blueprint for comedy sequels. Even the same lines get repeated to the point where audiences laugh more out of reflex and expectation than actual innovation and surprise. But enter Lord and Miller, who don’t decimate the entire structure, but rather gnaw it on like a dog with a chew toy. They have it directly under their control, turning it and biting it with just enough pressure to keep us amused throughout.

In this installment, Jenko is the one who adapts quickly to his atmosphere, chest-pumping with various frat boys and even making the college’s football team. Schmidt wanders around aimlessly, ending up with the coffee-house poetry slammers who live rather rudderlessly and mock any sense of conformity that might be displayed. Their new integration causes a strain on their (working) relationship, and they find themselves slowly drifting apart.

It is their central relationship that helped elevate “21 Jump Street” into more than just a derivative big-screen remake that served only to mock its source material. With “22” they take it to another level, delving into the bond they share as the film flirts with defining their relationship on an emotional level as well.

It’s all played for laughs, but never in a mean-spirited, condescending way. In fact, it’s more emotionally honest than most opposite-sex rom-coms that clog the theater in any given year.

Hill performs just as well as he has since his earliest days, still being a smartass to cover for a mound of insecurities that he’s not afraid to reveal in times of tension. But it’s Tatum who continues to build on his momentum as a certified talent beyond being just an empty-calorie slab of beefcake.

The rest of the cast is uniformly tight as well. From Ice Cube’s expanded role as the tantrum-prone captain to Jillian Bell as a roommate who constantly berates Schmidt for his obvious age discrepancy, there are laughs far beyond the film’s central conceit.

And just when you think they’ve tied the bow on this package and given sequels the ribbing they (usually rightfully) deserve, stick around for the end credits, in which Lord and Miller skewer any idea for future films in the franchise.

It’s a fitting footnote from two directors who seem ready to do some major damage to comedic conventions of the past while creating memorable movies that refuse to lose a grasp of the emotional core that makes them resonate in the first place.

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