June 13, 2014
Nathalie Atkinson
Posted with permission from National Post | Arts

If at first you succeed, try, try again. Or as they say, dude, same sh-t, different church

22 Jump Street
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Writing Credit:
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
Rated: R
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 112 minutes
Release date: Jun 13, 2014
Synopsis: Jenko and Shmidt must take down a drug kingpin by posing undercover as college students

I think my favourite bit in 22 Jump Street, the goofy, energetic sequel to 21 Jump Street, is a car chase almost imperceptibly sped to calliope music that passes the Benjaming Hill Centre for Film Studies, presumably an endowment made by Benny Hill. It's just in passing and you might miss it, but there are a lot of these quick, smart and satisfying moments that make the movie one of the best two hours in a movie theatre I've spent lately.

If at first you succeed, try, try again. Or as they say, dude, same sh-t, different church headquarters. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum reprise their roles as neurotic Schmidt and golden boy lunk Jenko, respectively, hapless partners in undercover crime.

Everything else is also the same, except slightly different. Even the plot - unearth a drug kingpin - changed, and to do this the boys go undercover as students. This time, at college.

All this, while being self-deprecating yet without apologizing for it for one second. As a sequel, 22 doesn't just acknowledge its predecessor, it wears its insecurity proudly on the vulgar gesticulations of its sleeve with a slew of meta references. On everything from the fluke success to the new movie's "more expensive, for no reason at all" glass headquarters and overall commensurately larger budget. "Nobody gave a sh-t about the Jump Street reboot" their boss says of their last narc outing, dripping with italics; later, the captain acknowledges he's now wearing $800 shoes "and nobody even sees them."

Certain generational touchstones used with comedic purposes (like John Waite's mournful 1984 hit) seem less the stuff of a 30-year-old who feels old than of a Gen Xer who's pushing the other side of forty. Are they maybe too old for this sh-t? Whatever, dude: Clearly, the boys both behind and in front of the camera are having a lot of fun playing with themselves. And as the Devo poster in Maya's dorm room can attest,  sooner or later, everything gets cool again - including the grunge plaid and puka shell necklaces that solidify how Jenko has maybe found his true soul mate in fellow frat bro athlete Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Goldie and Kurt).

For fleet of foot Jenko, temptation that derails the investigation is football stardom and a new bestie; for Schmidt, an unlikely romantic interest with Maya (Amber Stevens), whose monotone roommate is the only campus co-ed who notices their crows' feet. Oh and identical twin dorm mates Keith and Kenny Yang (comedy duo Keith and Kenny Lucas) whose rat-a-tat timing  is the sort of cleverness peppered among many puerile and slapstick skits.

The types of gags, they do vary. There's broad comedy (careening in a football helmet-shaped minicar that reads "Statesmen") but also a lot of stealth spoofing, with setups from Miami Vice, oblique references in quips to Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-O, and throwaway gag or line (Aroma of Christ Church and ah, parkour, plus an under the breath swipe at Mumford & Sons) and, in a ring that parts the gyrating tangle of neon Spring Breakers bikinis, a bare knuckle fight that incorporates silly sand toys. When the action relocates the action to Mexico for the final showdown, it's for little other reason than to acknowledge more pop culture pastiche, and that the inevitable helicopter chase on picturesque beach proved too irresistible. As are aping the caper from the Mission: Impossible reboot; the industrial tropical rooftop out of one of the Bourne sequels. And quite a bit of Marathon Man running.

From meet-cute to time out, break-up and reconciliation, the friendship layers romantic comedy conventions writ large, underlined and pointed at in blinkering neon. Only, with dudes. The undercurrent of homophobia typical of buddy movies is knowingly stretched out in a sustained bromance conceit that manages to archly condemn and lampoon it for laughs.

All the details of this comedy are so perfectly stylized to contribute to it being a good romp, it doesn't feel like a real university (and probably isn't meant to). The name's the first giveaway: Metro City State, abbreviated as MC STATE on t-shirts that read for meaning as a McUniversity. It's a page straight out of Deborah Nadoolman's Animal House playbook and Belushi's College sweatshirt, as is the frat itself. The varsity colours are a bright blue and orange so uncannily lifted from a Frosted Flakes box, I expected Tony the Tiger to be the football mascot. And only in the movies could a no-name brand university afford public art sculptures that look to be by Ai Weiwei? Oh but the precariously piled chairs just beg to be crashed through on a chase, don't they?

It's not for me to say whether this meta-sequel improved on the original (haven't seen it) but it did make me want double-back to watch it, which is at least saying something.

"This is so, so scary," is how a real human police officer, like Schmidt, would actually react if hanging by the ankle from a swaying chain of a runaway Mac truck in a scene worthy of Buster Keaton's outtakes. Well, except if that human is Channing Tatum, who is the bionic, six-million-shooters frat man. It's athleltcism that defies the laws of physics (that, and he's funny too? no wonder Schmidt despairs).

Don't leave before the elaborate post-credits montage, for more riffs on future franchise instalments, complete with contract dispute jokes and a few good cameos. You'll want to wring out every last laugh of this comedy that's as self-aware as it is fun, and that's smart about playing dumb. I hope I'm never too old for this sh-t.