Just before seeing “22 Jump Street” last night, I grabbed the opportunity to see 2012’s “21 Jump Street,” so I can say that the hype about the sequel being better than the original is true. The second hour of “21” was nowhere near as good as the first. The sequel avoids that problem by giving Ice Cube’s “Angry Black Police Captain” Dickson more to do. His second act scenes are the best in a highly self-aware comedy that is also one long gay joke.
Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Janko (Channing Tatum) are still as ineffective as ever on the street. The sequel picks up where its predecessor left things after Dickson informed the duo that their reward for going undercover and busting a high school drug ring would be to do the same in college.
Schmidt and Janko aren’t actually in college-college though. They are back on the street monitoring online college courses being used to pass along secret codes that direct illegal drug transactions. After this leads to them botching a big arrest, the department decides they need to go back to doing the only thing they are good at.
At this point, “Jump Street” embraces its self-awareness as a sequel. Thanks to some clever scripting, what could have come off as too cute and self-referential, actually works (until it returns later for a blissfully short spurt). In a sequence crammed with too many jokes to count, we’re reminded that sequels repeat the same formula but with a much bigger budget.
And so, before you know it, Schmidt and Janko are undercover as college students trying to hunt down and stop the dealers and manufacturers of a designer drug before it breaks out onto every campus in the country.
The drug investigation is relegated to subplot (and a lazy one) in what really is a gay romantic comedy between the two leads. The humor is good-natured but you do spend almost all of the movie laughing at two men who don’t know they’re acting like platonic homosexuals going through a break-up. Schmidt’s heartache begins when Zook (Wyatt Russell) turns Jenko’s head in a “meet-cute.” References to fisting and “anal, and the sounds of man-on-grunting are always on hand to ensure you don’t miss the joke.
“22 Jump Street” is plenty funny but never uproarious. Laughs don’t build upon laughs until you arrive at the kind of nirvana the best comedies take you to — or even flawed ones with bursts of delirious inspiration that help paper over the rough spots. “Jump Street” is also weak on action. Thirty years after “Beverly Hills Cop,” there’s just no excuse for delivering action sequences with less imagination and excitement than an average episode of “Mannix.”
If you enjoyed “21,” you’ll love “22.” Hill and Tatum are both terrific, especially Tatum who uses his bland good looks to great comedic effect. Don’t miss the shot Tatum takes at “White House Down,” his big flop from last year, or the end credits, which are another highlight.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC