Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With Coming 2 America now available to rent from home, we’re offering our own belated sequel to a past Watch This theme and singing the praises of more good comedy sequels.
Action comedies have a tendency to get a little too straitlaced in the third act. En route to some adrenaline-pumped climax, humor tends to be increasingly set aside, the better to deliver some traditional spectacle. “Who wants to pause a car chase for jokes?” seems to be the faulty logic. So it’s no small delight when, to cite one of many fine examples during the final chase sequence in 22 Jump Street, undercover officer Jenko (Channing Tatum) turns down a random alley during his pursuit of notorious drug kingpin The Ghost (Peter Stormare) and startles a few pigeons from their perches, throwing up his hands in pointless defense and yelling, “Argh—fuck you, doves!”
22 Jump Street does everything its reasonably charming predecessor did but better. The film simultaneously embraces and undermines the standard tropes of a sequel, winking toward the fourth wall while never actually breaking it. True to its nature as a follow-up to a hit comedy, it takes a more is more approach; in the words of Ice Cube’s no-nonsense superior, Dickson, its mission is “way more expensive for no reason.” And the goal of that mission? To do “the exact same thing as last time.” 22 Jump Street faithfully follows the formula of the original film (which itself recycled the premise of an ’80s TV series) and also that of franchise sequels, while simultaneously sending up the diverting absurdity of both. It’s a feature-length “hold my beer.”
In keeping with the escalation strategy of most part twos, the sequel moves from secondary to post-secondary education, even as the plot remains more or less identical to part one’s. Again, Jenko and his partner, Schmidt (Jonah Hill), go undercover to find the supplier of a deadly new synthetic drug. Again, they find their respective cliques and drift apart, though with Hill’s Schmidt the outcast this time around. And once again, they eventually set aside their differences and come together to take down the villains, including The Ghost’s petty, foul-mouthed daughter (Workaholics regular Jillian Bell, in a star-making turn). Mostly, the plot is an excuse to maintain a running commentary on how marginally the story has been tweaked, though it’s also smartly tailored to both stars’ comedic strengths—Tatum’s gift for lunkheaded earnestness and Hill’s talent for exasperated straight-man antics, with each managing to shine whenever put through their physical-comedy paces by the steadily escalating set pieces, whose exorbitant cost the cops ruefully note.
22 Jump Street is generous with throwaway gags (most of which land) and rapidly paced, as is to be expected from the directorial brain trust of Chris Lord and Phil Miller, two modern-day maestros of rambunctious, inventive comedy (The Lego Movie). It’s a messy affair, but that’s to be expected from these filmmakers, whose comic sensibility is all about pushing back against tight structural constraints. Here they’ve made a post-modern sequel that deconstructs itself in real time as it unfolds. That mission plays out all the way through the end credits, which gleefully exploit the endless-sequel potential of the Jump Street franchise formula in a cavalcade of increasingly ludicrous fake trailers for upcoming films in the series. And yes, of course, there’s action. But it’s always in service of the jokes. Never let it be said that Jenko and Schmidt did something in a cool and effective manner when there was a far more unsuccessful—and entertaining—way to do it instead.
Availability: 22 Jump Street is currently streaming (with a subscription) on fuboTV. It can also be rented or purchased digitally from Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, Microsoft, Fandango Now, Redbox, AMC On Demand, DirecTV, and VUDU.