Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)

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Directors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Screenwriters: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel & Rodney Rothman
Based on 21 Jump Street
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell, Nick Offerman, Jillian Bell & Caroline Aaron
Runtime: 112 min // Certificate: 15

22 Jump Street, with a nudge, a wink and an ‘oh-so-meta’ approach to life, is little more than the comedy version of Die Hard 2. How, it asks, can the same shit happen to the same people twice? That it attempts to satirise the notion that with sequels come increasingly diminishing returns for both the stars and the audience is a clever twist that recalls the first film’s jovial approach to remakes and revivals. It’s an in-joke, if you will, between the film and its audience. We’ve seen it all before, but that’s not a problem because not only do we know it but so too do the directors, the screenwriters and the cast. Alas, like Die Hard 2 – or Scream 2, or even Airplane II (*hilariously* subtitled “The Sequel”) – the film’s central, “look how meta I am” conceit runs out of steam within the first few minutes and never really recovers.

The crucial problem for me is that 22 Jump Street simply isn’t as funny as its predecessor. There are some decent jokes and a few hysterical moments but they’re scattered aimlessly through a film that is too long, too unfocussed and too infatuated with its own central joke. Unlike the first film, in which the gags were allowed to flow naturally from within the confines of the story, 22 Jump Street feels like a series of sketches that have been cobbled together with little relation to one another. The plot is erratic, the characters are dull rehashes of those from the first film and the gags are crass and repetitive. That this is part of the joke isn’t really an excuse. You can’t make an only mildly amusing film and then claim that that’s the point, for if it doesn’t make you laugh enough then it fails its basic remit as a comedy, regardless of whether or not it’s meant to be “meta”.

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To give you some idea of what I mean, both the reference to Annie Hall at the start and the extended end credits sequence are far funnier than anything that happens in the bulk of the film itself. Sure, there are lots of humorous moments but they pale in comparison to what the first film offered. Where the first film relied on the ludicrous nature of its plot to tell the jokes, 22 Jump Street resorts to unnecessary vulgarity. Again, I get the point; it’s a sequel and, as such, it has to be bigger, nastier and more violent than its predecessor, but must the offensiveness (which is something I have no problem with whatsoever, before you all brand me a politically correct killjoy) lack all charm? Some of the jokes are offensive, close to the bone and funny but others seem to simply be offensive for offensiveness’ sake, which does a real disservice to the rest of the film.

Similarly, though I did laugh on multiple occasions, I never felt that the film came together in any form of neat package. The plot is all over the place, which tends to detract from the innate humour of the situation in which the two leads find themselves, while the characters no longer feel like real people who’ve found themselves in an absurd scenario but like caricatures. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if the entirety of the middle act hadn’t been devoted to exploring the conflicts between the two main characters. That the film wants to be both a series of gags held together by a loose story and, at the same time, a humorous character study is perhaps its greatest flaw, because it can’t seem to combine these two threads into a coherent whole.

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Nevertheless, it’s by no means a failure. Like with the first film, Channing Tatum (White House Down) is the star of the piece, displaying a wonderful knack for comic timing and genuine penchant for self-aggrandisement. His chemistry with Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) is the rock upon which the film is built, while Ice Cube (Ride Along) – who has a much meatier role this time around – rounds the trio off nicely. It is only when the three of them are together that the film really comes into its own and feels like a worthy sequel. Lord and Miller (The LEGO Movie seem to know exactly how to get the best out of these guys and without them the film simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as likeable as it is.

That 22 Jump Street isn’t as good as its predecessor shouldn’t come as a surprise because sequels, no matter how “meta” they are, rarely live up to what went before (Gremlins 2: The New Batch expected, obviously…) Don’t get me wrong, I still had a fun time with it and thought bits of it were very funny indeed, but there was something missing this time around that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it was the fact that the slapstick was OTT, that the jokes didn’t feel as tightly written or that there was an overreliance on the central “meta” joke; I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that 22 Jump Street didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s alright, sure, but that’s about all it is.