22 Jump Street (2014) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell, Peter Stormare, Jillian Bell, Jimmy Tatro, Keith Lucas, Kenny Lucas, Nick Offerman
Small role: Rob Riggle, Richard Grieco, Dustin Nguyen, Seth Rogen, Dave Franco, Anna Faris, Bill Hader
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Screenplay: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman

Review published June 13, 2014

Schmidt (Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jenko (Tatum, White House Down) are back, moving to the Vietnamese Church across the street as their new base of operations for their undercover narcotics unit.  This time, they're going to portray themselves as college students in order to gain information on who is supplying the school with a deadly new drug labeled WHYPHY (pronounced like 'Wi-Fi' -- an acronym for Work Hard - Yes, Play Hard - Yes), which gives its taker the ability to focus for four hours, followed by a euphoric four-hour trip. 

While there, the two split up into their respective groups, with Schmidt portraying a poetry major trying to get information on the artsy crowd through a cute young coed named Maya (Stevens, The Amazing Spider-Man), and Jenko joining a frat and playing for the football team, both headed by a QB nicknamed Zook (Russell, Cold in July), who forms an instant bond with the undercover cop.  However, the separation forms a strain on the relationship, as Jenko is too into Zook to see that he might be the guy they're looking for.

Coming two years off the heels of the surprise hit 21 Jump Street, this sequel continues to mine comedy gold spun from the cliché premise of the 25-year-old TV drama.  The recipe continues to be to not take anything or anyone seriously, just going for the biggest laughs possible while not straining the main plot beyond the breaking point.  It's even more self-aware than the first film, with lots of meta moments satirizing not only the TV show, and not only the first film, but also itself as it plays out.  Except that it does it all without breaking the fourth wall -- the screenwriters comment on the formulaic nature of the sequel through dialogue that makes a sort of sense in the context of their conversations.

But what really makes the film work is the never-hold-back comedy gusto of its stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the latter of which has really come into his own to be one of the more unlikely formidable comedic forces in film today.  Ice Cube (Ride Along), who reprises his role as Captain Dickson, delivers some of his best work as a comedic actor in a film to date, especially in scenes in which he becomes downright ornery upon learning that one of his two undercover officers may have done him wrong in a very unintentional way.  Jillian Bell (The Master) also chips in with her droll and witty delivery, in what might be a breakthrough performance, playing Maya's none-too-impressed roommate who is tired of seeing Schmidt's 'old' face around the dorm (there is some irony that Bell and Hill are the same age).

Almost equal to the prowess of the duo of the film's stars is the duo behind the camera, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who already scored big earlier in the same year with another surprise hit, The LEGO Movie.  Obviously, being an R-rated comedy, this is a much different sort of movie targeting a different demographic, but they still bring an inventive visual flair and impeccable comedic timing to the way they package the comedy and action sequences that just sets the right tone for big laughs.

As you can see from the amount of stars I give this sequel, I do score it less than the first film, despite acknowledging that it delivers on an equal amount of big laughs.  The primary reason is that this sequel does have its share of lulls, and no amount of money thrown at the big-budget action sequences can enhance the quality of the screenwriting or laughs.  And worse, these are extended lulls where lengthy scenes play out without a solid enough comedic angle in order to draw out laughter.  Perhaps part of the reason is that it's not as tight as it should have been, pushing up toward the two-hour mark without much of a plot.  If the storyline isn't interesting, we're waiting for big laughs, which sometimes come in bunches, but other times stay pretty flaccid, as if we're viewing DVD deleted scenes that have been re-injected into a theatrical cut.

Fans of the first film will likely be pleased-to-thrilled at this follow-up, as it definitely delivers lots of explosive action and a few big bro-mantic laughs.  It does feel like too much of a good thing sometimes, but the screenwriters make sure to give a wink and a nudge that they know this, which will likely appease more cynical viewers from crossing their arms instead of slapping their knees from the out-and-out zaniness of one of the more clever, if slack, sequels of the year. 

-- Stay tuned during the first few minutes of the end credits for perhaps the funniest bit of the film, with a mock collage of future sequels.  There is also a short post-credits sequence.

Qwipster's rating:

©2014 Vince Leo