22 Jump Street Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Rated R. Opens Friday.
The biggest laughs in Phil Lord’s and Christopher Miller’s 2012 adaptation of 21 Jump Street came from meta-jokes about the ridiculousness of turning the ’80s cop drama into a modern action-comedy, but mocking the idea didn’t make it any less tired. In 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller pile on the self-referential humor, with jokes about the new movie’s rehashed plot, its larger budget and its stars’ other roles. Once again, pointing out the emptiness of a cash-in franchise sequel doesn’t excuse that very same emptiness, and 22 Jump Street doesn’t just joke about rehashing the plot of its predecessor; it does exactly that, sending bumbling cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) undercover as students to root out the supplier of a dangerous new drug.
This time around, they’re posing as college students rather than high school students, but otherwise most of the beats are the same, including Schmidt’s romance with a fellow student (Amber Stevens); the duo’s drifting apart as they focus on different interests (and then triumphantly coming back together for the climax); a drug-trip sequence in which they inadvertently take the substance they’re investigating; and their irate captain (Ice Cube) yelling at them to stop messing around and solve the case. Instead of prom and a high school play, 22 Jump Street features frat parties, football games and spring break, but it’s just trading one set of obvious devices for another.
In their family-friendly animated movies (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie), Lord and Miller pile on goofy puns, sight gags and exuberantly clueless characters, but they can’t quite bring the same sense of fun to this R-rated live-action franchise. Maybe the problem is that they didn’t write the script (for this movie or its predecessor), or maybe it’s that the goofiness of their animated work doesn’t translate into car chases, explosions and the dubious chemistry between their lead actors. Whatever the reason, the Jump Street movies are leaden where Lord and Miller’s other movies are fleet, crass where those movies are sweet, and repetitive where those movies are inventive.
22 Jump Street drags on for nearly two hours, including a number of action set pieces and a nearly interminable finale set at a spring break resort. It ends with a tongue-in-cheek montage of potential future cash-in sequels, which would be funnier if it didn’t seem like a genuine sign of things to come.