When you’re being tickled, there’s a point of maximum laughter at which you suddenly realize you’ll scream if it doesn’t stop. “22 Jump Street” reaches that point during its end credits, the funniest I’ve seen in many moons. I roared at a lot of the film and realized I never want to see another minute of a “Jump Street” again.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and their screenwriters (three uncredited, others not) tease the franchise, the characters and the genre from the opening sequence, a kind of highlights reel from the 2012 predecessor.
After a happily ludicrous chase, in which Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) let a drug dealer get away, they’re ordered to report to their new headquarters at 22 Jump Street.
“I can’t believe we can’t get the abandoned Korean church back,” Schmidt says of their former building. “Good thing there’s an even bigger abandoned church across the street.” In they go, where Schmidt admires the corner office: “It’s like a big cube of ice!” Sure enough, Ice Cube turns up as their irascible boss, Captain Dickson. (He has a larger role now.) Puns, verbal gags, even jokes written on signs abound until the end.
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This time, the two pose as Metro City State College students to find someone who’s selling a fatal drug. Schmidt falls in with the art crowd, notably loose-moraled Maya (Amber Stevens); Jenko pairs off with football-playing frat guy Zook (Wyatt Russell), who’s so close to Jenko in temperament that they finish each other’s sentences.
The script flirts with homoeroticism: Jenko and Zook make doe eyes at each other while working out, and Schmidt jealously reminds Jenko that he has a prior claim. The two cops go to a therapist and pretend to be sexual partners while seeking clues, and Jenko delivers a lecture on homophobia to a thug. Lord and Miller push the gay vibe as far as they can without making the target audience go “Ewwwww.” Yet Schmidt and Maya, clearly a straight couple, have zero chemistry.
The mad chases and self-referential asides and nutty dialogue add up to nothing, but they’re bizarrely entertaining. The story virtually stops so Schmidt and his nemesis, Maya’s grumpy roommate (Jillian Bell), can have a fistfight while debating whether they’re attracted to each other. This irrelevant scene crackles, and then we zip forward to something else.
Tatum seems a bit lethargic this time around, while Hill comes off as more tightly wound. The pacing has improved, even if the story coheres less, and Bell makes a hilarious and malevolent irritant: She’s like the quieter white female counterweight to Ice Cube.
That far, “22” merits a B grade. The long final credits, in which Dickson imagines dozens of future scenarios for the undercover boys, kicks it up one notch: We see them infiltrating culinary school, ninja training, a seminary, a firehouse, even an old folks’ home. This sequence culminates with a plug for “2121 Jump Street,” where they pass themselves off as astronauts. If anyone ever contemplates a sequel to “22,” I hope he watches these credits and desists.