21 Jump Street:
Three years prior to 21 Jump Street, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were best known only for TV credits and 2009’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but it wasn’t until this film that the directors truly broke out and made a name for themselves. Taking the TV series and turning it into a vehicle for stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, by all accounts, this movie should have failed and fell flat on its face, but instead, rose above its vices to become one of the funniest films of 2012.
In its defense, the film knows that this is a terrible idea, and has a very Meta sense of humor to pick apart its general tropes. The film makes direct commentary on the laziness of studios that undermine old source material from a lack of creativity, and runs through age old customs, but has a good enough sense of humor to subvert and poke fun at them in the meantime. The writing for this film is so quick and deadpan that it’s hard to find a boring moment, and it’s much to Lord and Miller’s creativity.
But by far the most entertaining aspect is the inspired team up of leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. By all accounts, this is a lineup that also shouldn’t have worked, but between the two of them, an effortless and energetic, bromantic chemistry as perfect as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber creates electrifying sparks. Hill is excellent playing up classic nerdy stereotypes as Schmidt, while also poking fun at his usual comedic and raunchy persona. Then you have Channing Tatum, utterly flawless as athletic and unrestrained Jenko, whose quick one-liners and detailed quirks result in the film’s biggest laughs. Separately they’re great, but it’s when they team up that the film is at its best, not afraid to mock themselves, and in a particular arc when Schmidt goes from outsider nerd to cool kid, and Jenko vice-versa, the film also has a lot of heart. Of the supporting cast, the most scene stealing one is Ice Cube as their hot-headed police captain, and creates just as much intimidation as he does comedy.
Breaking it down, it’s a film that had no right to be as good as it was, but proved that with the right people behind it, it can be pulled off.
**** / *****
22 Jump Street:
It would be a two year wait before we would see Schmidt and Jenko in action again, and just four months earlier, Phil Lord and Chris Miller would come right off the success of their animated smash hit, The Lego Movie. Clearly they were the comedic stars of the year, but if anyone had assumed the first film were destined to fail, than this sequel probably seemed like it was bound to finally do so. The film once again acknowledges just how stupid this idea is, stating that doing something the second time (and with an increased budget) is never as good as what came before it. In an ironic twist, however, I feel that this film has managed to do just that.
Whereas 21 Jump Street was a mockery of studios running out of any original ideas for films and resorting to previously published material, 22 Jump Street is an even bigger mockery of the growing sequel market, and the contentedness of rehashing plot points from predecessors while doing nothing different than throwing more action and jokes with very little breathing room. The film largely does follow the same beats and structure points as the first, but still hilariously pokes holes in these customs with a refreshing self-awareness. What I ultimately came to realize is that, rather than suffer from the laziness of these clichés, it instead chooses to unabashedly wear them like a badge, and take full advantage of the comedic potential that lie within them. Though similar to the script of the first film (even clocking in at an almost identical running time), the film isn’t exact, and often successfully manages to pull the rug out from underneath viewers who assume to have figured everything out, and deliver genuinely unexpected hilarity. The film also works in some fun in-jokes in regards to its cast, such as sly nods like a reference to Channing Tatum’s 2013 flop White House Down.
As was the case in the first film, the real highlight is the pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and with this film, they’re awarded better chemistry than even the first movie offered. Clearly having established a strong friendship from the making of the first film, the two brilliantly continue to play up their bromance, even going so far as to liken them to a bored couple who’ve lost their passion for one another, and switches up their dynamic so that now Jenko becomes cool kid on campus, and Schmidt becomes the outsider. The two of them seem to want space from one another, but come to realize that it’s when they support each other that they’re to the best of their abilities, and so too does the film Their mismatching is just as witty and energized as ever, and leads to both the most touching and hysterical moments of the film. Also making a return is Ice Cube, given a more expanded role than in the first film, and is just as ferociously intense and funny as ever, especially after a riotous twist in the story.
This film has come closer than any other at dethroning The Lego Movie as the funniest movie of the year, and thanks to the stellar chemistry between its leads, is bound to become a comedy classic in its own right.
****1/2 / *****
And there you have it, my take on both 21 and 22 Jump Street. Again, both films were better than they had any right to be, almost destined to flop, but took those questionable ideas to their benefit to make two of the most unashamedly familiar, yet unique comedies in years.
Will 23 Jump Street be able to say the same? Well, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
Until then, "F--- you, Science!"