After the success of ‘21 Jump Street’, one would have been forgiven for thinking this sequel would be a cynical cash-in. The original film was entertaining, warm and funny and seemed a refreshing reboot of a somewhat dated TV show of the same name. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the guys responsible for the superb ‘Lego Movie’, ‘22 Jump Street’ returns to the same winning formula that worked the first time around. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
This is not a bad thing; Lord (both Phil and God) knows that the modern American comedy often boils down to nothing more than tired phallic jokes and casual misogyny. Recent examples of this are ‘Bad Neighbours’ and ‘Sex Tape’, where both films tried so hard for laughs only to see them fall flat. ‘Sex Tape’ was, in my opinion, the worst of those two examples, yet both highlight the ill-discipline and lack of intelligence common in today’s American comedies. Long gone are the days of wit and irony which brought us ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Team America: World Police’ – or so it seems.
The reason why ‘22 Jump Street’ works is that the script is tightly written, with improvisation kept to a minimum. This is a rarity nowadays, where filmmakers often leave the tape running on their stars in the hope of finding comedy gold. Lord and Miller seem to have the same motto as I; leave the hard stuff to Larry David. By reducing the amount of ad-libbing from the two stars – Jonah Hill and the increasingly impressive Channing Tatum – the film feels disciplined and well constructed as opposed to flabby and inconsistent. That is not to say the film is hilarious. But what it lacks in genuine belly laughs, it makes up for in fully-fledged entertainment, which owes a lot to a smart script and a great bro-mantic chemistry between the two leads.
Channing Tatum is an actor I have come to admire over the last few years. After starting his career in generic schlock like ‘Step Up’ and ‘Fighting’ (what was that about again?), he has now become a genuinely strong screen presence. Performances in ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ have shown that Tatum can do the serious stuff just as well as he does the comedies, and the key to this is simple – he doesn’t take himself too seriously (see ‘This Is The End’ for proof). The film would not work half as well as it does if it were not for the efforts of Tatum and Hill, and the directors have a lot to thank them for in that regard.
In a bid to be self-aware and intelligent, the film at times becomes overly self-indulgent with constant references to how cynical it seems to make a sequel of the original. It’s funny how discerning the film is to begin with, but it soon grows a little tiresome. Despite this flaw, the film is as entertaining as you’d expect and hope for; but no more so than the original. This is a film very much on a par with its predecessor, but in this age of endless reboots and remakes, this is an achievement not to be taken lightly. ’22 Jump Street’ is made with heart and humour, and while it doesn’t completely work, it is far superior to other “comedies” defacing the silver screen of late.
It will be interesting to see where these talented filmmakers are in a decade or so; they clearly have an understanding of how to make comedy work and, more importantly, how to entertain their audience. For now, it seems we are witnessing the birth of the Coen Brothers of comedy. A bold statement, you may say, but I expect even bigger and better things from these two in future.
DIRECTOR(S): PHIL LORD AND CHRISTOPHER MILLER
STARRING: CHANNING TATUM, JONAH HILL