Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Recent Watches: 22 Jump Street (2014)

Nobody expected “21 Jump Street” to be good. I think part of its enthusiastic response, both critically and commercially, had to do with nobody expecting it to be good. It was a big part of the Channing Tatum Redemption Tour, which is still on-going, I guess? It helped establish Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as miracle workers and new nerd favorite auteur. When a sequel was announced, expectations were actually running high. And then the most unexpected thing happened. Lord and Miller bested the odds twice. “22 Jump Street” was as well-received as its predecessor and an even bigger commercial hit.

After the successful bust at the end of the first movie, Schmidt and Jenko have a disastrous run as undercover cops. Hoping to cover their losses, the guys are put on a mission that’s extremely similar to their previous one. Instead of going undercover at a high school, they go undercover at a college. They are investigating the death of a student from a new fad drug sweeping the nation. Both get in too deep with their cover identities… Again. Their friendship is tested… Again. They uncover a deeper conspiracy around the drug plot… Again. And they comment on the similarities along the way.

I’ll be up-front: “22 Jump Street” is way, way better then the first. The first was an indecisive parody of action flicks. “22 Jump Street,” instead, is an incredibly focused parody of sequels. The story is a retrend of the original. This is pointed out repeatedly, by everyone from (a hilarious) Nick Offerman, to the main duo, to everyone in-between. They are stationed in a church across the street from the one in the first. It’s bigger on the inside because the police budget is bigger. When money suddenly runs out half-way through, the characters try to avoid costly collateral damage. While in college, Schmidt and Jenko’s friendship is tested when one becomes more popular then the other. Except, this time, it happens to the other guy. They revisit the first film’s villains in prison in a hilariously ribald scene. The movie’s constant acknowledgement of its cash-in sequel status climaxes with the extended credit sequence, which shows us clips from the next thirty “21 Jump Street” movies, including the tie-in cartoon, video game, and toy line.

While the first movie riffed on high school movies, the sequel riffs on college movies. Channing Tatum is quickly accepted by the football team. He has an immediate relationship with a fellow jock named Zook. The movie plays the football games for ultimate hilarity, via deadpan narration and a reoccurring gag about the goal post. This climaxes with a chase scene involving a football helmet shaped car and parkour, which is riotous. Schmidt, meanwhile, gets involved with the art scene and meets an adorable new girlfriend. This aspect allows for some brilliantly surreal bits, like the identical twin stoners or the harsh roommate who throws age-related barbs at Schmidt. There are so many jokes that it’s hard to keep track of them. What about Patton Oswalt’s cameo as a baffling professor? Or Schmidt learning about sexuality equality for the first time, which plays out fantastically? Or a room decorating montage? Or the utterly surreal drug trip? Or frat initiation montage? I could go on.

The movie’s dual purpose, to spoof sequels and college movies, meets in the last act. Set at spring break, the characters uncover the true villain. There are unexpected cameos from characters from the first movie. Channing Tatum learns how much he hates spring break while simultaneously using a drunken college girl as a weapon. Jonah Hill has an extended fight scene which builds amazingly. There is a pay-off on a running gag involving Lambroginis, grenades, and diving for bullets. All the while, the movie actually finds a satisfying emotional pay-off for our two leads.

And, hey, how about that supporting cast? Has Ice Cube ever been better used? His mid-movie freak-out is amazing, especially once he goes to town on that chicken. Another impressive thing about the film is that Jonah Hill and Amber Stevens, as love interest Maya, have genuinely good romantic chemistry. The amazingly dead-pan Jillian Bell has a special way with her vicious one-liners. And then the movie somehow got Peter Stormare as the main baddie, who plays it entirely straight.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have finally won me over. They are consistently very funny in this very funny movie. The writing is brilliant and clever but never looses sight of packing in some impressive gags. It’s a big ol’ goofy comedy and one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Am I uncertain about Sony’s plans to build a whole franchise around it? Well, yeah, but all of Sony’s franchise plans are terrible. I don’t think that will diminishes the hilarity of “22 Jump Street.” [8/10]

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