By NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
The ‘80s television show, “21 Jump Street,” focused on a bunch of youthful undercover agents. The weekly police procedural was a straight ahead drama, which first exposed Johnny Depp’s star potential.
In 2012, the title was appropriated and the premise given a comedic twist for cinematic adaptation. Courtesy of the sequel’s prologue, we are provided with a quick recapitulation of the original’s plot line. A pair of Police Academy graduates, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), were recruited into a resurrected undercover unit. They were assigned to infiltrate a local high school and break up a drug ring.
The co-protagonists had a back story. Back in high school, Jenko had been a popular jock, who bullied the smart, schlubby Schmitt. As mismatched cop buddies, the pair eventually overcame their differences and even developed a bromantic bond.
To set up the sequel, a Chinese Christian church has purchased the property that had housed the police unit. They have been displaced and forced to move to a new location at 22 Jump Street. A not so subtle sign at 23 Jump Street is planted in a vacant lot, contiguous with their former location. This announces the film’s intentions to parody the blockbuster sequel phenomenon.
Jenko and Schmidt are under the supervision of Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman). He bemoans the department’s decision to mount another sting operation. As he observes, “It’s always worse the second time.” It’s another obvious caveat, suggesting that this film, like most sequels, won’t reach the standards of the original. Unfortunately, he’s all too prescient about the diminished quality of this ill-fated affair.
Of course, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) remains as splenetic as ever. I doubt whether the film has a single scene in which the ex-rapper’s patented scowl isn’t plastered all over his face. The Captain’s dialogue consists of a profanity-laced stream of abuse directed at Jenko and Schmidt. At a smorgasbord buffet, the captain is confronted with an unanticipated familial situation and has a particularly volatile melt-down.
Recycling the exact same narrative template, Jenko and Schmidt are partnered up again and assigned to infiltrate another drug ring. This time around it’s at Metro City College. A young co-ed has recently died. It is assumed that she was dealing WHYPHY, a drug described as a hybrid of adderol and ecstasy.
Channing Tatum has convincingly played an ultra-macho character in vehicles like “G.I. Joe” and “White House Down.” He is well-cast in the comedic version of the persona and proves eminently likable. His natural grace and athleticism is effectively applied here to fight scenes as well as a dance number. Tatum’s character has the uncanny capacity to open beer bottles with his eyelids. He convincingly conveys all the qualities of a guy, who would be readily embraced by the school’s rowdy, beer-swilling frat boys.
In this role, Tatum again demonstrates surprising touch for light comedy. He plays a knucklehead without overdoing it. His character brags that he is the first person in his family to pretend to go to college. When Jenko enrolls in a human sexuality class, he asks Schmidt whether he will be having sex in class. He mispronounces the illicit drug, WHYPHY as, “wiffy,” before being corrected. Later, Jenko asserts that he has come up with a great clue — the campus is equipped with 24-hour Wi-Fi, oblivious to the fact that it is not the same thing as the drug. He spouts a litany of malapropisms, confusing “homophone” for “homophobe” and “Cate Blanchett” for “carte blanche.”
Of course, Jonah Hill’s corpulent klutz is a perfect foil to Tatum’s chiseled physique and kinesthetic propensities. His self-absorbed loquaciousness contrasts with Tatum’s laconic implacability.
The film is wildly uneven. It vacillates between esoteric metahumor and puerile slapstick. Unfortunately, the latter dominates “22 Jump Street.” The always enjoyable Patton Oswald portrays a professor in a scene that mocks the notion of tenure. There are also some funny, recurrent appearances by Afro-Asian twins, Keith and Kenny Lucas. They display an eerie verbal synchronicity.
Jillian Bell makes the best of her limited role as Mercedes, the roommate of Schmidt’s new girlfriend. In paroxysms of vitriol, she mocks Schmidt’s incongruous appearance. At one juncture, she suggests that Schmidt “looks like a 30-year old eighth grader.” Attempting to maintain his ruse, Schmidt insists that he is only 19. Mercedes sarcastically retorts,” “Nineteen minutes late to pinochle?” She manifests a psychosexual tension with Schmidt, which ultimately plays out in bizarre fashion.
A genuinely hilarious epilogue is addended onto “22 Jump Street.” It easily eclipses anything within the actual film. In it, the filmmakers present hilarious trailer snippets from imagined sequels, going all the way up to, “43 Jump Street.” In them, the intrepid pair will supposedly be going undercover to ninja school, culinary school, and a host of other assignments. One trailer suggests that Hill is embroiled in a contractual dispute. Seth Rogen replaces him as the Schmidt character.
Despite some intermittent laughs, “22 Jump Street” is overbloated, redundant, and unnecessary. After enduring nearly two hours of it, make sure that you don’t depart before seeing the entirety of the epilogue.
“22 Jump Street”
**1/2 R (for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity, and some violence) 111 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.