Though I didn’t find much that was new or creditable in the movie “21 Jump Street,” two directors at MGM have made a sequel to it. And the new film sold a lot of tickets its first weekend. It is called “22 Jump Street,” naturally enough.
The action-comedy reunites Jonah Hill, a veteran of Judd Apatow comedies and of voice-over work for animated films, with the actor known as Tatum Channing or Channing Tatum, whose most significant screen experience in this case was his turn in the 2011 Roman Britain costume adventure “The Eagle.”
The boys play policemen working undercover as young people—as college kids, here—for a quasi-independent law enforcement project run by the always irritated and usually disgusted Ice Cube. The athletically limited Schmidt (Hill) and the mentally limited Jenko (the other guy) are enrolled at a local college to find out who is selling a new designer drug called WhyFi. “I’m the first in my family to pretend to go to college,” claims Jenko.
The core story is absolutely predictable down to the last detail—oh, I suppose we wouldn’t have guessed the moviemakers would put spring break in the middle of football season. Otherwise this is a cop plot we’ve all seen lots of times.
Our sort of heroes begin by investigating a dead girl who seems to have been buying or selling the drug. They look for a guy with a tattoo. Meanwhile one of them finds an attractive sex partner. Turns out the girl is the boss’s daughter, and this causes great embarrassment and a Tasering directed at Schmidt’s privates.
The cop two-some follows a clue to the library stacks. Then they have a realization which sends them off for a beach week. Chase scene. Chase scene. Football game. Schmidt and Jenko sadly part company. Then they save each other. Then the climax comes.
Been there many times. Done that several times every movie season for years.
But now, here’s the twist. “22 Jump Street” is a much, much better movie than was its predecessor, and the reason is that the writers somehow began writing a series of imaginative developments that probably baffle the viewer, but certainly entertain him.
When we talk about story “developments,” we usually mean events based on some new idea. Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed by criminals, and he grows up determined to protect other citizens of Gotham from similar violence. But, development, he decides to do the actual fighting of criminals himself, rather than paying someone else or running for office.
And then, development, he decides to do this in a costume which hides his identity. And, development, he uses his riches and his control of a weapons manufacturer to set himself up with all sorts of Bat toys he can use in squashing crooks. But then, development, some crooks dress up and develop special talents themselves. These are odd developments for a very basic psychological story.
In “22 Jump Street,” the interesting developments all have to do with the relationships between pairs of men. Most of these—not the identical twins one, but the others—may suggest the relationships have an unacknowledged sexual content. Schmidt and Jenko are devoted to each other and have pledged to be “Partners forever.” They go through the falling-in-love lobster cooking scene from Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” though I suspect few movie-goers have seen that old flic.
The boys suffer through a break-up that is obviously based on cliché divorce stages. “Maybe we should investigate other people.” In one scene they go through what seems like a cliché marriage counseling session, complete with a psychologist.
In fact, the problem is that Jenko (who walks on the college’s football team) seems to be the ideal partner of the school’s quarterback, with whom he shares a growing friendship in scenes like those in romance movies.
Eventually the main characters’ bro-mance is salvaged. But there are enough scenes relying on pairs of men in partnership that the development keeps us awake and guessing as the movie proceeds.
Now, in the end “22 Jump Street” isn’t able to make any cogent use of the scheme. But when a beagle flies, one shouldn’t complain that it doesn’t do barrel rolls.