Comedy sequels, as anyone who has sat through Meet the Fockers will testify, are a tricky thing. Make them too different to the predecessor and you risk losing everything that made the original so good. Make them too similar, and you’re accused of blatantly copying the first one. It’s a tricky dilemma, and one 22 Jump Street neatly tries to sidestep with some very modern self-referencing. It’s a cute idea, but after the 1478th time someone says ‘it’s going to be exactly the same as last time’, it seems the producers have drawn on the hyperrealist teat a tad too much. There are some clever moments in this regard- a TV series-style recap at the start is a stylish nod to the movie’s source programme, a Scream 2-ish conversation about how it’s never as good second-time around is fun, and there are several inspired references to budget constraints- but there’s so many that they just become wearing. Thing is, what the producers don’t seem to realise is that we don’t care if it’s similar to the first one- as long as it makes us laugh as much. But it doesn’t.
It’s an underappreciated truth that the openings of comedy movies are usually much funnier than the end- because setting up characters allows for a lot of creative licence, but once you have a plot to move along, the comedy is by necessity enveloped in the storyline-thus, caged by scenario. The freedom of introducing characters is not a luxury that the writers have here- they have to come up with a reason for there to be a sequel, and fast! So, as crudely hinted towards at the very end of 21, Schmidt and Jenko are sent to college to investigate a new drug… wait, haven’t we heard this before? Well, anyway, the early signs aren’t good. An early confrontation with an octopus is tremendously unamusing, whilst many of the early exchanges seem forced.
Things pick up a bit with the reintroduction of Ice Cube as psychotic Captain Dickson (although again the in-jokes do irk), and after his customary angry banter with our central duo, the fun can start. You see, in addition to being a logical progression from the high school setting last time out, college is the perfect place for our two heroes to shine- and they do. Part of the fun first time out was the reversal of stereotypes – ‘not so Slim Shady’ Schmidt becoming one of the cool kids in a hippy tree-hugging environment, whilst former prom-king wannabe Jenko found himself stuck with the geeks that he used to laugh at. This time, we revert back to the jock/nerd dynamic we would have expected- Jenko begins hanging out with the football team, whilst Schmidt starts doing poetry open-mic nights (and gets a girlfriend- the twist of which is absolute gold). This gives both actors a chance to return to their acting roots- Hill gets to really let loose on the comedy, whilst Tatum takes advantage of his beefcake physique. But their interactions with each other are where this really scores points- a school counsellor scene where the pair discuss their relationship is clever, which the emotional kick when they inevitably fall out (helped by one of the neatest split-screen effects since 500 Days of Summer) is surprisingly hard.
22 Jump Street does often fall victim to a repetitiveness that does come across as lazy- not just in its unerring insistence on self-references, but also in its incessant copying of its own jokes. Schmidt’s girlfriend’s roommate is a fun addition, but her odd movie references and jokes about Schmidt’s age quickly just become annoying. Even an excellent credits sequence is overdone- forgetting to heed the age-old ‘less is more’ mantra. It also falls into the modern convention(see the Cornetto trilogy, Zombieland, Pineapple Express etc.) of having an OTT denouement- the difference being that those films did it well. Hill’s fight with a girl is a lesson in how to produce a stony face- come on guys, Scott Pilgrim did this much better 5 years ago!
It’s patchy as hell, but there are some inspired moments on show here for those who haven’t lost patience. There’s also a great return from Rob Riggle and Dave Franco, reprising their shtick from the original .Overall, though? Bit of a disappointment- let’s hope the inevitable 23 Jump Street moves back to the hilarious side of the street.