Thursday, June 26, 2014

22 Jump Street

Part of me feels like the best way to review 22 Jump Street might be to simply copy and paste my write-up from 21 Jump Street with minimal alteration. They're essentially the same movie, after all, and most of the comments still stand.  So, yes, you know by now that 22 Jump Street is good. You've heard it, you've seen it, your friends keep recommending you check it out.  Because yes, it is awesome and yes, it is cramp-up-your-side funny.  And yes, once again, what's perhaps most remarkable about it it is isn't that it's tremendously successful as comedy, but that it's one of those rare cases where blatant repetition benefits the final product.  If 21 Jump Street was already a weird case of film industry recycling cause gone right, 22 Jump Street takes the formula and purifies it into one of the most smartest pieces of meta-narrative in recent cinematic memory.  So, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) return, this time with even more consistent jokes.

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to praise a film for literally duplicating the outline of its original. Most sequels attempt this, of course, and most fail because their plots read as studio attempts to cash in on a formula.  The Hangover franchise, for example, failed so completely in its follow-up films that it threatened the cult status of film one.  How many ways can we mar Ed Helms? How many times can we run into Ken Jeong? How many prostitutes can be solicited or drugs accidentally ingested?  The films attempt to set-up the same jokes and posture the characters in similar patterns, and on the surface 22 Jump Street makes many of the same edge moves. The sequel guidebook is followed to the letter: the ante is upped, the relationships developed in film one must be tested or often reversed, supporting characters will return unnecessarily, and gags that reference past events will occur in abundance.  Where series attempts like The Hangover (or any number of others) falter and descend into masturbatory laziness, 22 Jump Street succeeds pretty much for exactly these reasons:

1. It points directly towards its high potential for failure.
2. It addresses the fact that it is running through the same motions -- repeatedly -- as a conceit of the film.
3. It cleverly integrates both 1 & 2 (basic tenets of metafiction) seamlessly into the dialogue while maintaining the illusion of the fourth wall.
4. The elements that are altered work to confuse the characters exactly because they aren't identical (and the characters are otherwise not good policemen).
5. Those small changes then become a repeated source of comedy.
6. And finally, the actors actually seem to enjoy what they're doing.

What we wind up with, then, is a continuation of the strange combination of social satire and broad-stroke concept comedy that made the first film function.  Everyone involved in the film seems to understand that it wasn't the fundamental appeal of the plot that worked, but the syncing of all the little sideways mechanisms behind it.  What was ludicrous in 21 Jump Street's trip to high school here seems just as absurd brought to college, but Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - who now have a series of meta-narrative hits on their hands - never let Jenko and Schmidt descend into a lazy aping of the original material or rest too heavily on the tropes opened by placing a buddy cop film in the space of a frat comedy.  The eye-rolling exasperation suffered by so many sequel protagonists is here placed as a further burden for already irritated minor characters like Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) and Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman).  While they suffer loudly, our leading men are obtuse and, consequently, free from the same exhaustion. We watch as they grow to enjoy aspects of college that keep their character arcs fresh even in repetition.  Most notably, Tatum's defensively dim Jenko achieves campus football stardom and finds a second bromantic soul mate in Zook (Wyatt Russell), leaving Schmidt to air his sorrows in artsy evenings spent with Maya (Amber Stevens).  The adjustment to the 'left-out' dynamic breathes new life into the pair's naturally mismatched relationship, and Hill and Tatum continue to have an unexpected chemistry that allows the complications to lead to comfortable, consistent rhythms and exchanges.  It's a meta frenzy, but one with such likable characters at its center that we pull for them no matter how self-referential the film gets.

1 comment:

  1. I sometimes find it hard to follow your reviews because my vocabulary isn't nearly as developed as yours, but I like trying to figure out what you are saying anyways. I hadn't heard anything yet about how this movie was and now it sounds like I should see it!


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