RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
Of the 14 million 1970s and 80s TV shows that were turned into movies, only 21 Jump Street earned a sequel. That’s because it had the good sense to take the hyper-emo, After School Special tone of the original and target it like a urinal cake the whole time. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill nailed the mismatch buddy cop vibe, Ice Cube was there to yell at them, and there were just enough laughs to make you forgive the movie when it got boring.
Now comes 22 Jump Street, which brings everyone back and tries to squeeze more slightly-above-averageness out of the same incompetent-cops-as-undercover-students premise. It’s a shameless rehash, and the characters winkingly acknowledge that upfront. They joke about how lucky it was that the first outing was not a dismal failure, how rehashing the same formula is sure to lead to disappointment and how little business sense it makes to pour more money into the same formula and hope for commensurate success.
For a surreal moment or two, 22 Jump Street is onto something as it goes ultra meta–roasting itself for having run out of ideas. The only problem is, the doubts the characters jokingly express turn out to be all too valid.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, hot off the success of The Lego Movie, extend that opening bit throughout the whole movie, which turns out to be about how dumb it is to make a sequel to 21 Jump Street. This time, there are enough absurd giggles to make a couple good trailers, but not to make a nearly two-hour movie tolerable.
Hill and Tatum are out to infiltrate a college drug ring this time, and the setting is an excuse to push the guys through barely-related skits that hit all the college life touchstones. They move into a dorm, rush a frat and deal with the awkwardness of close-quarters roommates who heard you having sex last night. They also try out for the football team, hit up spring break and check out pretentious improv shows and poetry slams.
The stars work best together when the hampering structure fades away and they end up talking about nothing. Hill and Tatum are so naturally funny together, you get the feeling they exchanged the best lines over beers after filming. There’s some decent physical stuff, with Tatum or his stunt double pulling off John Woo-style supercop moves, followed by Hill’s fat man in a little coat attempts to keep up.
But despite the movie’s efforts to resurrect the nostalgia of college mayhem, it has enough dead spots to bring back college memories that aren’t so good: Waiting in long lines for registration, suffering through interminable lectures and being stuck alone at the dorm while everyone else is out partying and “forgot” to invite you. A study in squandered opportunities, 22 Jump Street is most like college in that it’s fun at times, but for most of it you’re just ready for it to end so you can move on to better things.
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare and Jillian Bell. Written by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, based on a story by Bacall and Hill. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Rated R. 112 minutes.