If you loved 21 Jump Street, you’re in luck: The sequel, 22 Jump Street, is the exact same movie. Since the first film was such a fast and fizzy buddy-cop bromance, that’s not the worst news in the world. But it is a bit of a disappointment. Reprising their Mutt-and-Jeff routine, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play undercover narcs Schmidt and Jenko, who are assigned to go back to school and pose as students to sniff out a drug ring. Sound familiar? Only this time, instead of high school, they’re dumped on a college campus, and the drug is a deadly synthetic mix of Ecstasy and Adderall called WHYPHY. ”Do the same thing as last time and everyone will be happy,” their pencil-pushing supervisor (Nick Offerman) tells the fellas at the outset. And that’s precisely what they do, beat for beat, for the next two hours. To cover up the script’s lack of originality, screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman pummel us with a string of self-aware meta-commentary jokes that poke fun at bloated sequels. It’s as if they’re trying to beat viewers to the realization that we’re being peddled sloppy seconds. But just because the writers repeatedly elbow the audience in the ribs about how cynical sequels are doesn’t make their approach any less cynical.
It’s a good thing, then, that Hill and Tatum continue to have such great chemistry. Hill’s neurotic-motormouth act and Tatum’s lovable-lunkhead shtick still shoot giddy sparks. After kicking off with a ridiculously over-the-top action-flick sequence, the guys show up at their swanky new HQ in an old Vietnamese church across the street from their previous digs (hence the new address in the title). Their barking captain, played with hard-ass menace by Ice Cube, informs them that he’s enrolling them at MC State, where they’ll pretend to be the most genetically mismatched siblings since Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins. Adding some supporting-cast spice are comedians Kenny and Keith Lucas as a pair of narcoleptically chill identical twins who live across the hall and Jillian Bell as a sarcastic grump who spews acid insults about how old Schmidt and Jenko look. One of the unexpected treats of the first film was the positioning of the Abercrombie-sculpted Tatum as the unpopular loser and the brainy sack of mashed potatoes Hill as the BMOC. Here, the roles are reversed: Tatum bros down with some football-stud frat boys, while Hill is shunned and forced to hang with an emo crowd that includes a beautiful coed (Amber Stevens) he meets when he does a bonkers poetry-slam number that earns him the (untimely) nickname Maya Angelou (see sidebar). The spoken-word bit culminates in one of the film’s best moments: a walk-of-shame gag in which Hill exchanges embarrassed glances with female classmates making the morning-after walk across the quad. The movie could’ve used more cracked scenes like that one.
Instead, 22 Jump Street lazily milks the undercover brothers’ codependency for gay-panic punchlines (enough already). They bicker. They break up. They go their separate ways. (Cue John Waite’s ”Missing You.”) Tatum then finds a new target for his homoerotic double entendres in the alpha-male quarterback Zook, played by Wyatt (son of Kurt) Russell. As the tired investigation spins its wheels to a spring-break climax in Mexico, the movie nearly morphs into a slack installment in the Bad Boys franchise, complete with shootouts, chases, and even a fiery helicopter explosion. On the plus side, it also gives us more of Bell’s delirious deadpan misanthropy.
I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t laugh at times. I did — especially during the film’s inspired end-credits tease of future Jump Street installments. But I’ve come to expect more from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who have been on a roll with the cult TV series Clone High, the first Jump Street, and most recently The LEGO Movie. The merry-prankster duo have a real knack for cheeky pop culture mischief and placing clever new spins on shopworn properties. I get that with sequels, moviegoers are, to some extent, asking to see more of the same. But does the same have to feel quite so samey? B-