22 Jump Street Review: Something Cool
Phil Lord and Chris Miller are living proof that there is no such thing as a bad idea… so long as you give that bad idea to Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
In less than six months, Lord and Miller have directed not one but two movies that gave off the initial stink of selling out on a huge and disastrous scale. Sure enough, The LEGO Movie exists entirely to sell toys, and 22 Jump Street exists entirely to cash in on the unexpected critical and financial success of 21 Jump Street, another “bad” idea for a movie in its own right. And yet every single time they have elevated the material into a thoughtful, witty examination of surprisingly soulful characters, as well as a biting satire of the seemingly soulless Hollywood regurgitation machine, calling attention to the inherent stupidity of these premises without resorting to outright cynicism or, worse, something frustratingly twee.
And although 21 Jump Street was a surprisingly smart comedy with something meaningful to say about the rapid widening of contemporary generational gaps, and although The LEGO Movie was a rainbow-colored cornucopia of unexpected gags and kiddy movie subversion, 22 Jump Street is clearly their first comedic masterpiece. Better than the original, funnier than the original, and suddenly imbued with a fiercer intelligence, albeit filtered through a whimsically insipid concept, 22 Jump Street takes the very notion of doing the same thing over and over again to wild new heights of comedic possibility.
The film is full of knowing winks ( “23 Jump Street” is already under construction across from Jonah Hill’s and Channing Tatum’s new police station), but the implicit understanding of how comedies like this go wrong achieves a level of Zen mania just before the closing credits, where you will find a sudden burst of creativity: an inspired montage of brilliantly moronic notions that fuels the audience’s desire for more-more-more while instantly precluding any such notions from ever existing as a reality. 22 Jump Street, it seems, is the filmmakers’ last word on the matter of comedy sequels, and it is a manifesto to worth studying.
After a brief attempt to think outside the box and give Detectives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) something akin to a real action movie assignment, they are shipped back to Jump Street and told in no uncertain terms to do exactly what they did last time, because last time it worked. They have a bigger budget now, but they only spend it on pointless extravagances. They run out of money halfway through the movie, culminating in a car chase in which they try to avoid destroying anything because the precinct – and by extension, the filmmakers – just can’t afford any more explosions.
Our heroes are in college now, leading to gags about frat parties and poetry slams (Jonah Hill’s impromptu performance neatly encapsulates the filmmaker’s approach to 22 Jump Street itself), and also to a moment of clarity. Whereas in the last movie Schmidt was able to achieve his dream of being popular in high school, in 22 Jump Street Jenko is given the chance to discover who he really is in an environment designed to foster personal exploration. As Schmidt and Jenko struggle to remain buds despite obviously growing apart, the movie lathers on the homosexual subtext with a snow shovel. But it’s not about being gay, it’s about being close, and 22 Jump Street wittily explores the absurd depths of their bromance as friends, brothers, partners and lovers in equal measure throughout the whole film, with consistent comedic and sometimes even dramatic success.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s film is a deft mash-up of every comedy possible. The densely packed jokes include the meta and the absurd, the smart and the stupid, the obvious and the subtle. (Just check out the name of the Metro City State's film school.) Those seeking intelligence will find it. Those seeking the inane will also be more than satisfied. And they will all laugh. They will laugh so hard that they will do a spit take all over the film critic sitting in front of them who will promise after the credits roll that the incident will not go unmentioned in his review. They will laugh so hard that that critic will then need to disinfect himself afterwards in a stinging full body bath of industrial strength hand sanitizer, weeping softly and wondering aloud why the universe hates him so.
Oh yes, they will laugh. And so will you.