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‘22 Jump Street’ surprisingly smart, funny

POSTED: June 12, 2014 1:00 a.m.

In many ways, “22 Jump Street” is a typical comedy of the mid-teens.

It’s a sequel based on a known popular-culture property with much of the humor referencing the body in one way or another. It’s made primarily for male viewers in their late teens to mid-20s, and one of the leads got his start in Judd Apatow movies. All standard stuff these days.

What isn’t typical and what elevates this movie far above others fitting that description is its witty self-referentiality and film pop culture quotations. Mixed in with the sophomoric gags we expect are moments of comedic brilliance.

Yes, you are reading this correctly. I am using such language to describe “22 Jump Street.”

The filmmakers take meta humor to a whole new level as they mock their own adherence to formula from beginning to end.

The opening credits mimic the TV show on which the franchise is based, providing us with a “previously on” wrap-up of what happened in the “21 Jump Street” movie. We then get the obligatory scene when Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) gives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) their assignment. They must again track down a drug dealer, and the only difference from the last film is they are now in college.

Schmidt suggests they approach the investigation with a different strategy, but the chief tells them to keep everyone happy and do everything exactly like last time. The only difference is the budget has doubled. The three of them laugh at the idea that spending more will somehow improve the “case.”

We know they are actually referring to the movie itself, and this is merely the first in a steady stream of self-mockery that offers numerous, bull’s-eye shots at how slavishly Hollywood sequels stick to the formula established in franchise starters. These jabs continue relentlessly even through the closing credits, which are among the funniest I have ever seen.

Filmmakers approach this movie as if it’s the next episode in a television series, even as they lampoon the way movies have come to resemble television and vice versa. The only other movie or television show to mock itself as ruthlessly and hilariously is “Arrested Development.”

The filmmaking offers similar surprises. The style is unremarkable for much of the film, then during a hallucination sequence the directors split the screen as Schmidt and Jenko experience very different reactions to a drug they take. Then, the actors begin to physically interact with the line dividing the screen. Cue the think pieces about postmodernism in “22 Jump Street” now.

Perhaps the only, and definitely the biggest, misstep the movie makes is overplaying the latent homosexuality jokes. The first movie explored this subtext plenty, and we didn’t need to revisit it at all.

The major subplot created is a sort of bromantic love triangle between Jenko, Schmidt and a new acquaintance named Zook (Wyatt Russell). It factors into the story effectively and is funny for a while but by the end, those jokes become very tired.

There will almost certainly be a “23 Jump Street,” and they really need to move away from that theme.

“22 Jump Street” offers a genuine breakout performance, too. Jillian Bell — remember that name — steals every scene she is in with lethal deadpan delivery and superb comedic timing. Her character can barely tolerate all the intellectually inferior coeds around her, and she cuts right through Jonah Hill more than once.

For all the movie’s other successes, Bell leaves the strongest impression.

Before “21 Jump Street” was released in 2012, it seemed like a terrible idea to adapt this flimsy TV property with only a cult following into a movie. Now, however, Jump Street is turning into one of the wittiest comedy franchises Hollywood has to offer.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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