For our review of 22 Jump Street, we partnered up Trash Boys Mike Pfeiffer and Max Robinson for a conversational back-and-forth analysis of the film.
Mike: You do realize that this is a sequel to our smash-hit tag team review of Pacific Rim?
Max: A spiritual sequel, of sorts. Like an unasked-for Fierce Creatures to that review’s A Fish Called Wanda. But let’s talk about sequels. Specifically, comedy sequels and how much they inevitably suck.
Mike: Comedy sequels are usually the worst of all. Caddyshack 2? Weekend at Bernie’s 2? Airplane II? It’s a damn massacre.
Max: Hollywood’s failed attempts to make even half-decent sequels to The Hangover are the closest modern equivalent to alchemy.
Mike: What it comes down to is that comedy comes from an absurd situation. When you make a sequel, it means you have to have the same absurd situation with the same characters for a second time, and somehow not do the exact same jokes. The odds are stacked against success, and mainstream motion pictures that get sequels aren’t usually creative to begin with.
Max: This brings us to 22 Jump Street. Directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s superpower is taking terrible premises and spinning gold from them. A movie based on LEGOS. A feature film reboot of a bad television show. Nobody expected 21 Jump Street to be good and, defying conventional wisdom, the natural order of the universe and will of Jesus Christ himself, it was a really well-constructed, flat-out hysterical movie. But with 22 Jump Street, the tables are turned. Lord and Miller have built up a solid rep for being able to deliver and now they’re working with a premise people actually want to see.
Mike: Like The LEGO Movie, the Jump Streets are great examples of how Lord & Miller both subvert and meet the audience’s expectations for a given genre by laying out the rules for all to see. By freely acknowledging the problems with sequels (repetitive plots, bloated budgets) with some meta dialogue that Dan Harmon is throwing a fit about not writing, they do a little sleight of hand that lets you ignore the fact that the movie still kind of has those problems.
Max: 22 Jump Street is explicitly a movie about expectations, specifically the cinematic Kobayashi Maru test Lord and Miller have to face in making a movie like this. In 21 Jump Street, there’s a funny winking jab at corporate studio mentality when Nick Offerman’s police chief character tells Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum): “You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.” 22 Jump Street is an entire movie extrapolated from that. After Jenko and Schmidt mess up an undercover drug bust that doesn’t involve them posing as students, Offerman wearily commands them to “do the same thing as last time and everyone will be happy.”
Mike: Except, of course, with an exorbitant budget for apparently no reason. The first few scenes outline the plot and development for the rest of the movie and the every prophecy made for the characters is fulfilled, for better or for worse. The clever act of showing the seams in the script means that the expectation that it has to reinvent the wheel is gone and you can just enjoy the boundless charm and energy of the dialogue.
Max: Miller and Lord, faced with a pretty unenviable task, are basically owning the fact that there’s no way they can deliver a movie that will totally satisfy the contradictory demands of a returning audience, their studio overlords, and themselves as artists. The end result is an inconsistent but nevertheless extremely sturdy and charming vehicle.
Mike: It showcases how much Tatum and Hill have grown as a comic duo, but also the lessons the directors have learned. Most comedy films live and die just on the performances, but the inventive cinematography reinforces the themes of the script, like duality and the homogeneity of action movies, while delivering great jokes for giant nerds in the audience who use words like “homogeneity” unironically in a review of a movie where Channing Tatum feels Jonah Hill’s balls.
Max: Yeah, wow, there were some really lovely shots and composition in this movie. The sequence that slowly brings Jenko and Schmidt together from two separate split-screened locations stands out and shows an attention to detail that you never see in movies like this. There was legitimately good action choreography (Channing Tatum uses a college coed as a weapon!). It was a comedy shot like, you know, a real movie.
Mike: The brief sequence aping Michael Bay! There’s a lot of comedy in this that the audience is trusted to understand and is not explicitly explained by the characters. Of course, the loving amount of detail occasionally works against Jump Street when there are extended riffs or bits that probably could have been cut to make the film a little bit leaner and more joke-dense.
Max: The problem with making a movie that jokes about being bloated and unnecessary is that your movie’s still bloated and unnecessary in parts. Just because you make fun of your crappy volcano at the science fair doesn’t make it better, you know? But really endearing gags like the movie’s incredibly drawn out opening credits sequence make you forgive a lot.
Mike: The relationship between the two leads is really the emotional core of the movie. I’m loathe to reveal too much more of the plot than the trailers already have, but last time we saw Schmidt thrive in a modern high school while Jenko was forced to try and understand the nerds he used to hate. Now reassigned to infiltrate a college, Schmidt is the one who’s cast aside as Jenko finds a bromance with another chiseled dummy.
Max: If the first film was about Schmidt and Jenko’s first trial by fire as a real, working partnership, 22 Jump Street finds them forced to heal their strained friendship while still trusting each other to function independently. This pays off pretty nicely in the straight up absurd third act of the movie, where they are forced to split up to catch the film’s two villains (one of them being a wistful-for-the-90’s Peter Stormare, doing his finely honed eurotrash schtick).
Max: Creatively, I think the smartest thing this movie did was bringing Ice Cube’s angry Captain character to the forefront. His role in the prior movie was essentially an elevated cameo, while here he gets way more stuff to do and NEWSFLASH Ice Cube’s disgusted, confused face is like the funniest thing in the world. There’s a plot twist reveal midway through the movie involving him and Schmidt that’s set up super subtly in the first act that’s like a…joke landmine or something, it’s amazing. While this isn’t a wholly successful endeavor, there is still so much to love here in terms of jokecraft.
Mike: Having pulled off a hat trick of unexpected successes with the Jump Streets and The LEGO Movie, Lord and Miller have set a bar for themselves so high that even the characters in their movie know it, and I’m excited to see what these buddy cops do next.
[Didn’t you guys end it with a song last time? Do a song. -Dylan]