22 Jump Street opens with a “Previously on 21 Jump Street” flashback sequence commonly relegated to your favorite television series. Just in case the audience is unaware it’s about to see the anticipated sequel from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, we are reminded of what made the 2012 installment such a refreshingly effective comedy. You see, 22 Jump Street knows it’s a sequel to a movie based on a hit TV show, and it’s aware of any comment or riff we could make on Hollywood’s current spell of sequelitis—and beats us to the punch. The joke is on us as much (if not more) as anyone on Jump Street. After all, we are the ones who paid the $10 to see this “sequel.”
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as Jump Street officers Jenko and Schmidt, and they are tasked with reassuming their cover identities as the most unlikely pair of brothers since Jaime and Tyrion Lannister. Aside from a change of setting to college from high school (the film paints them as even less likely college students than high schoolers), the nature of the case they are given is nearly identical to 21 Jump Street. In fact, the duo’s commanding officers (Nick Offerman and Ice Cube returning) often remind them—and us, “It’s the same case. Do the same thing!” It’s easy to see the producers at MGM giving the same guidance to Lord and Miller, along with other phrases uttered in the movie such as “Twice the budget, twice the profits,” and “this department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going.” And that’s the point. This is essentially a sequel about sequels, but even more so, the film is a deconstructionist romp.
Perhaps the best example is a scene early on when Schmidt and Jenko attend a poetry slam on campus to find out about the new synthetic drug WhyPhy (pronounced Wi-Fi) and establish their cover identities. Soon Schmidt finds himself thrust onstage to deliver his own poem. He’s backed himself into a corner. You could say the same thing about the script, undoubtedly hitting the same beats as the original. But instead of potentially blowing his cover, Schmidt delivers a performance that asks his audience “What is slam poetry?” Once again we are caught deconstructing what has already been deconstructed, a figurative pie in the face to critics looking for meaning. Another scene produced one of the strongest laugh-out-loud moments for me. It involves a Red Herring, but to what extent I won’t spoil here.
While no one actually receives a pie to the face in the film, there is plenty of slapstick humor (when it’s not commenting on the escalation of machismo often seen in the action genre). A particular split-screen sequence is hysterically ridiculous but no less delicious, and one of the obligatory car chases careens into an implausible back-and-forth shot best seen from the Three Stooges or Charlie Chaplin. It takes place in front of the school’s Center for Film Studies, no less.
It’s no doubt Jenko and Schmidt once again reconcile after getting in too deep with the case and agreeing to “investigate other people.” A buddy cop parody still needs a buddy cop ending. However, much like Lord and Miller’s latest hit The Lego Movie, a happy ending isn’t the main conceit of the film. Rather, it’s our relationship with a film aware of the skepticism it attracts, yet it still contributes to the zeitgeist it aims to deconstruct. There will likely be a 23 Jump Street. (We find the building at the address is under construction at this point.) But Lord and Miller take the gag even further during the credits, offering a hilarious montage of the next twenty installments of the Jump Street franchise. We may know what to expect by 27 Jump Street: Culinary School, but Jenko already delivered the perfect comeback in 21 Jump Street: “Look at him, he’s trying!”