Sequel Footing: Lord and Miller’s 22 Jump Street (2014) – DVD review
Familiarity breeds content – but what if content can be rebuilt? Lord and Miller apply ‘master builder’ logic to cure sequelitis.
22 Jump Street
(Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2014)
The cliché that sequels are crap is even harder to avoid for critics, for whom it quickly becomes possible to create a review as predictable and formulaic as the movie they’re writing about. One of the joys of 22 Jump Street is that it pre-empts this hollow conversation by conducting it within the film itself.
So Ice Cube’s Jump Street handler warns about the budget being doubled in the hope of doubling the results, even as he revels in working from a new base that resembles CTU from 24. So Nick Offerman’s cop boss lays down the law: “just make it the same, then everybody’s happy.” Even undercover cops Schimdt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) seemingly base their investigation on having just rewatched 21 Jump Street on Blu-ray. Basically: every criticism you’d ever expect to read in a review of a sequel has been written into the script…
…which leaves a huge hole for returning directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller to fill with what they do best: wall-to-wall comedy, deepened by just enough of a trace of genuine feeling. Their triumph is to remember that the original film was merely a blueprint – and they already demonstrated in The LEGO Movie exactly what they think of instruction manuals. Having already thrived amidst the bric(k)olage of that hit, they employ the same ‘master builder’ logic to live action, taking the outline of 21 Jump Street and throwing endless variations upon it.
Everything that appears to be the same has been exaggerated for comic effect, tweaked for the sake of a one-liner or subverted entirely. “The same, but different” has rarely been so true. Antes are upped (21’s high school setting becomes a university college, the new drug is the inspired Why-Phy, pronounced Wi-fi but spelt as an acronym for Work Hard, Yes; Play Hard, Yes) but expectations exceeded. The disastrous first-act mission turns into a manic piece of Bayhem involving an octopus, a truck and a chain. A love interest for Schmidt becomes source to the film’s most inspired sub-plot. Even the hallucination sequence that trips balls becomes a hysterical split-screen misadventure.
On the surface, it’s a lesser film because it lacks the brilliant role-reversal that turned Hill into a stud and Tatum into a geek, but by putting the characters in their natural habitat, Lord and Miller tease surprising emotion as the heroes are driven apart by Jenko’s descent into a jock. There’s just enough drama here for Hill and Tatum to kick against, making the film’s more delirious excesses so much more rewarding for the contrast.
But really it’s about the directors’ goofy, surreal wit and the stars’ palpable delight in being allowed to improvise alongside them. The film finds big laughs in an unintentionally erotic fist-fight, Hill’s excruciating slam poetry session or a genius plot twist, Tatum’s reaction to which provides the film’s biggest laugh. (There’s talk he’ll be Oscar-nominated for Foxcatcher; he deserves it for this.) Best of all is an end credit sequence that goes to town on all the insane variations we might expect from future follow-ups, ultimate proof of the team’s ability to freestyle genius from the most generic elements. It’s to Lord and Miller’s credit that we’d happily watch each and every one.