Film Review | 22 Jump Street

The sequel to surprise smash-hit 21 Jump Street didn’t have to do all that much work to reel in already-won-over audiences, but a little creativity the second time around would not have gone amiss.

Crash helmet: Jonah Hill (left) and Channing Tatum in the undercover cop comedy-sequel 22 Jump Street
Crash helmet: Jonah Hill (left) and Channing Tatum in the undercover cop comedy-sequel 22 Jump Street

Some say the art of romance is dead. This is debatable. Perhaps our cynical age doesn’t deserve to luxuriate in dreams of eternal romance anymore, but you’ll find a steady drip of romantic comedies making their way onto our silver screens every month or so regardless.

Whatever the case may be however, I would put it to you that if you argue that the art of BROmance is also dead, you will have a much harder time of it.

Call it what you will – an attempt to inject new life into what’s become a stale male-female dynamic; a relaxation of tensions males may feel towards the mere notion of being associated with supposedly ‘homosexual’ behaviour – but deriving (often heart-warming) humour from touchy-feely male movie buddies appears to be a trend that isn’t going away any time soon.

BBC’s Sherlock went back to the source and gave it a trim, sharp and super-popular update: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were arguably pop culture’s very first bromantic pairing, and the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman interpretation of the characters milked that for all its worth.

Going ever so slightly back, in the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson parodic take on the Starsky and Hutch television series (2004), we find a similar dynamic to 21 Jump Street (2012) – also a comedic update of a police-procedural TV series – which also seeks to derive humour from the cushy relationship that begins to develop between the two leads.

A part of me thinks there must be something suspect, even insidiously homophobic, about all of this. Though there seems to be an element of tenderness to these dynamics – undercutting the emotionally numb machismo we’ve come to expect from bona fide action heroes in bona fide, non-comedic action films – the idea that we should be laughing at them too just doesn’t sit right with me.

But clearly I’m in the minority, as 21 Jump Street – starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as two lacklustre cops who go undercover in a high school in an attempt to bust a drug ring – was not only a commercial and critical success, it has just spawned a sequel: unimaginatively titled 22 Jump Street, which allows our leads to graduate from high school to college, as they go undercover once again.

As tends to be the case with the neo-buddy cop genre – and we can include the aforementioned Starsky and Hutch under that particular umbrella – logic isn’t something that we should be concerned with. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman are brazen in their disregard of it, in fact.

Under any normal circumstances, incompetent law enforcers Morton Schmidt (Hill) and Greg Jenko (Tatum) would have been fired from their jobs a long time ago. Instead, after they’ve botched yet another sting operation – in an attempt to capture a drug dealer nostalgic for the good old days of the 90s (Peter Stromare) – they’re given a chance to redeem themselves by “doing the same old undercover s**t”, only this time in college, specifically the prestigious MC State, where a new ‘work hard party hard’ designer drug – WHYPHY – is being peddled around.

But the filmmakers are also brazen in their self-awareness: the irony of our protagonists being told “just do the same old thing again, and everyone’s happy” won’t be lost on most half-intelligent viewers, I’m sure. Neither will the constant warnings that doing the same thing twice-over normally results in disaster…

So does the latter prophecy of doom actually come to pass? It’s safe to say that no, 22 Jump Street is hardly a disaster.

As far as frat boy comedies go, it’s actually pretty solid, with real laughs amid the – admittedly overplayed by now – core concept. There is absolutely nothing in the college milieu presented here that hasn’t been done before – hedonistic fraternity parties, sports-related one-upmanship, clearly defined subcultures – but the familiar dynamics are finely played out.

More than any individual gags, or anything to do with the conceit itself, it’s the bromance that gives the film a real ballast, and puts all the crass humour in some kind of context.

Going native on his undercover role, Jenko endears himself to the college football team, much to the chagrin of the decidedly non-athletic Schmidt. Their ensuing dissolution plays out like a slow-burning break-up, and though the concept is stretched over one scene too many, it still yields some funny moments.

At the end of the day, 22 Jump Street is likely to be the film you expect it to be: a competent sequel that riffs on its original, but which doesn’t really open up any avenues for originality in the process.

More in Film