Even in the era of movie franchises and sequels, live-action comedy sequels are something of a rarity, and one needs only look to The Hangover sequels to understand why. It’s difficult to replicate a comedic premise that manages to feel both fresh and funny. Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s 22 Jump Street deals with that problem head on: Like The Hangover, it recycles its premise and the general story outline of the original, but manages to reinvigorate itself by announcing its intentions and then laughing at itself right along with the rest of us.
It may be easier to describe it with a football metaphor. 21 Jump Street was like Adrian Peterson taking a hand-off, running right, breaking 16 tackles, and sprinting into the end-zone for a touchdown. 22 Jump Street is the exact same play, only he runs left, and every time he breaks a tackle, he yells into the safety’s face, “I just ran the exact same play and I still owned your ass.” The result is the same: A touchdown, and while Peterson might feel a little more exhausted from having run for six points on consecutive possessions, the celebration is no less lively.
22 Jump Street moves the premise from high school to college, but it reuses most of the same elements from the first film. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) continue to play brothers, only here the dynamic is reversed: Korean Jesus is Vietnamese Jesus, Jenko is the popular one in college, rushing for a fraternity and becoming a star WR on the football team, while Schmidt has to cope with being the college loser (though he does end up hooking up with an art major). Schmidt and Jenko use drugs again (with similarly hilarious results) and even the case is an almost carbon copy of the case in the first movie: Infiltrate the student body, befriend the dealer, find the source. And while Nick Offerman was used in the first movie to poke fun at the fact that they were remaking an old TV show, he’s used her to spoof the fact that they’re making a sequel (and at times, it’s almost too on the nose).
All of this might sound like an exhausting remake of the first one, if not for the fact that Miller and Lord end up subverting many of the first film’s tropes while simultaneously playing into and mocking bigger-is-better sequel cliches. It winks at itself so hard it sprains its own dick, but there’s something funny in that, too. It’s not entirely recycled, either: there are a few new setups and jokes, a couple of new characters (Workaholics’ Jillian Bell is a particular stand-out) and there are also a few eerily timely references to both Tracy Morgan and Maya Angelou and, more awkwardly, a scene in which Charming Potato’s character lectures a henchman on the use of the word “f*gg*t” that features some unintentionally priceless Jonah Hill reaction shots.
22 Jump Street may be more of the same, but it manages to succeed almost in spite of itself. I don’t think there’s enough left in the tank for a trilogy (and the hilarious post-credits sequence seems to rule that out), but there was plenty of energy and momentum to keep this one afloat.