Sequels, sheesh, amirite, folks? Contradictorily, they’re bigger, louder and more expensive than their predecessors and cheaper, smaller, lazier and not as fun. So, of course, I went into 22 Jump Street all “I loved the first one but sequels, geez, c’mon already, Hollywood,” and grumped as the lights went down.
And just as I was humbled by the fact that 21 Jump Street was a far better reboot of a TV show than any right-thinking movie fan should have expected, I was humbled again. 22 Jump Street is funnier, cleverer, wittier, snarkier and all good humorous things morer than the first film. It’s nonstop self-deprecation — as if it’s embarrassed by its “sequel to a reboot” status — that doles out well-deserved smacks to about 817 Hollywood things that desperately deserve it: TV shows that become movies, sequel-itis, dumb cops, dumb action heroes, meet-cutes, obvious red herrings, buddy cops, buddy comedies, bromances, gunfights, fist fights, college comedies, frat comedies (hell yeah: just the small amount of frat stuff here is way better than the entirety of Neighbors), 30-something actors playing teenagers, and other nonsense. Dammit, even the deliberately clichéd soundtrack is deployed to brilliant comedic effect.
I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. The kind of laughter where you didn’t think you were capable of such transport and you’re a little scared by it. By the end credits — which are, dear God, insanely funny in how they knock everything you dread for the future of a franchise even this good — I was on the verge of an actual crackup from cracking up.
One little moment encapsulates what 22 is doing. Cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) have “graduated” to going undercover at Metro City State College — they’re investigating a drug case that’s “just like last time” — and Jenko is unexpectedly enthralled by his human sexuality class. As he’s devouring the textbook, he says to Schmidt, with a sort-of newly self-aware horror, “Did you know I used gay slurs all through high school?” And he’s sorry about this! It’s like a little metaphor for how Hollywood can be taught, how it can be enlightened. This movie is as big and as loud and as actiony and as goofy as an action comedy sequel can be, and yet it’s (mostly) not stupid, sexist or homophobic. For good measure, there’s a running joke about how Jenko, who’s dumber than a bag of Glocks, sometimes realizes this, and laments how it limits him. “Fuck you, brain,” he says, rather sadly, to himself, and it zings by before you even realize how brilliant that is.
Returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and should-be-too-many-but-isn’t screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman and Jonah Hill (yup, same one) don’t get it 100 percent right: There’s an aside with Rob Riggle and Dave Franco, bad guys returning from the first film, that’s a little uncomfortable and not quite genuinely funny or as enlightened as I think it thinks it is. But it’s still not quite the same old sort of retrograde crap so many other similar movies end up with, but more a they’re-trying-to-be-smarter-but-they-failed sort of thing. (If you’ve got that many guys working on your script anyway, maybe make room for one more, maybe a woman? It’s an idea!)
That flaw is almost made up for by a long game of a joke that addresses the frequent hypocrisies of how men approve — or don’t — of other men’s sexual conquests. And also by the just plain niceness of the humor. So much of what passes for comedy coming out of Hollywood is mean-spirited, taking easy swipes at the powerless and downtrodden. 22 Jump Street punches up, and not down, at the excesses and inanities of Hollywood, at targets who don’t deserve it, and even then, it’s never cruel.