Sequelitus could be defined as a real movie illness, a case of a cinematic narrative continuing in the form of a bigger, louder, needless follow-ups, created to establish “tent poles” and new franchises. Most successful films have spawned a sequel, and most of them are unfortunate.
But I’ve always loved the idea of sequels, since most of great literature offers expansions on the established mythology. If Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes merit volumes of sequels, then why not John McClane and Inspector Clouseau? Unfortunately, the success rate for comedy sequels is especially low. What was funny for one movie can rarely sustain another installment, as evidenced in films ranging from Miss Congeniality 2, Smokey and the Bandit 2 and Big Momma’s House 2.
I wish filmmakers and the studios that fund them would cut their losses, walk away a winner and be happy that they pulled off a hit movie. Returning to the scene of the crime only creates another greed-driven, self-indulgent Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. The refreshing thing about 22 Jump Street is that it’s transparently self-aware of its status as a needless, bloated sequel.
This time, mis-matched super cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent to college, going undercover as students to crack a drug ring. Yes, it’s basically the same set-up as the first movie and, indeed, everyone on screen readily acknowledges how we’ve seen this before.
If all this movie did was crack wise about its stale formula and put the actors through tired paces, it would have died quickly. Instead, we get a steady-stream of consistent hilarity for about an hour, and enough goodwill to carry it through the ending, which (of course) is overextended and tries too hard. Until that point, this delivers the goods and is one of the better comedy sequels in a long time.
Hill is still a comedy heavyweight, finding big laughs by staying true to character and (sometimes literally) diving fearlessly into the screenplay’s inventively juvenile scenarios. Tatum seems more self conscious this time about being in a comedy. Still, he hits the comic sweet spot, especially when sharing scenes with Wyatt Russell (the talented son of Kurt Russell), whose “Zook” brings out a surprising side to Jenko. Amber Stevens, another newcomer, is a delight as the inevitable love interest, while comics The Lucas Brothers are a riot as Schmidt and Jenko’s offbeat college dorm mates. Peter Stormare and a returning Nick Offerman are wasted, as is a potentially juicy appearance from a TV 21 Jump St. veteran.
Thankfully, Rob Riggle’s outrageous cameo and Ice Cube’s expanded role bring some inventively vulgar surprises. Cube can do more with a look than most actors can with a monologue and Riggle, like Hill, will boldly go anywhere to mine huge laughs.
The equally crass but clever The Other Guys remains a superior parody of cop-movie cliches. This one can’t match it but the large number of jokes that hit stack pretty high. Even though the constant references to the movie being a sequel are more sly and cute than truly rich satire, this is a funnier movie than the original. A few comic gems stand out: Hill’s safety-first ascent up a house and mockery of a slam poetry, as well as Cube’s slow-burn during a dinner scene, still have me laughing.
If you enjoyed the raunchy wit of the first film, you’ll enjoy this unlikely success of a sequel as much as I did. Make sure to stay for the scene after the credits, which is as un-PC and hilarious as everything that came before it.
Score: *** (1-5 Star Score)