I’ll openly admit that I like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street (2012) more than I probably should. While I’d never defend the film as high art, it’s clever and frenetic enough to be both funny and entertaining (and mask the dumber aspects of itself), propped up by the chemistry of stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. It’s the one time I’ve found Hill even slightly likable, while 21 Jump Street, which came out the same year as the Stephen Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, cemented Tatum as more than a just a beefy heartthrob (really, it gave him the career James Franco should’ve had after Milk  and Pineapple Express , before he decided he was important). And on even simpler terms, the movie just entertained me, which, if you’ve read my reviews or watched enough modern movies, is something far too many filmmakers have trouble accomplishing these days.
So with all this, how does the film’s sequel, 22 Jump Street, avoid the doldrums of the diminished returns sequels often bring along with them? By tackling the idea straight on. Where 21 Jump Street was little more than a parody of that strange subgenre of movie where adults go undercover in high school and no one seems the wiser, 22 Jump Street takes on the whole Hollywood mentality of the cash cow franchise. As commentary, this can be a bit too on the nose, since the film goes out of its way to point out that officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) have been given orders from on high to perform their case this time around “exactly the same,” but with more money thrown at it. But instead of heading back to infiltrate a high school drug ring, they’re off to college to infiltrate a drug ring.
What doesn’t quite work is that the meta nature of doing 22 Jump Street the same as its predecessor is that it gives the film carte blanche to make the same movie over again, meaning it’s cognizant of its receding freshness. While the movie’s pointedness is often clever (especially an end-credit sequence that maps out some 20-odd Jump Street sequels that become increasingly silly and absurd), it doesn’t translate to the film proper, which, while occasionally amusing, isn’t anything special. It works here and there, but never consistently, and it only truly works at all thanks to Tatum and Hill.
The chemistry between the duo is handled in a surprisingly mature fashion, often embracing the sort of inherently homoerotic nature of the macho buddy cop action flick. Their relationship is consistently handled in romantic terms, mostly for laughs, but no boundaries are ever truly drawn between them. It’s a pretty staunchly pro-gay movie all around, too, since we do end up with an over-the-top shootout and car chase cropping up because Jenko refuses to let a henchman’s use of a gay slur slide. All this being said, it adds up to a movie that’s more interesting in what it’s trying to do and say than the full sum of the finished product’s parts. When your goofy comedy’s politics are more interesting than any of your jokes (well, besides a well done Annie Hall  reference), there are probably some problems there. Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence.