Saturday, June 14, 2014

Review: "22 Jump Street"

Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Runtime: 112 minutes

Though it's possible that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller will eventually make a misstep, it's difficult to ignore what the pair have accomplished over just four feature films. In both live action and animation, Lord and Miller have become Hollywood's go-to team for a bizarre category of projects: those that, on paper, should be absolute disasters. Earlier this year, they gave us the zippy, delightful The Lego Movie, and now they're back with, of all things a live action comedy sequel. 

Sequels can go any which way, but comedy sequels are notoriously difficult to pull off. In short, most are rather terrible (look at the diminishing returns on those Hangover sequels). And yet, through whatever magical chemistry Lord and Miller have, they have once again defied conventional wisdom. 22 Jump Street, a sequel to the 2012 surprise hit adaptation of the late 80s TV show, isn't just a passable comedy sequel. It is, for the most part, even funnier than the original. 

And this is before one even digs into the film's very meta take on what it means to be a comedy sequel. Whether or not 22 Jump Street is basically doing the exact thing as its predecessor but with double the budget (as Nick Offerman's police captain tells us), it's perfectly hilarious when taken on its own terms. 

This is largely due to how well the screenplay, from three writers, is able to mix broader jokes with the quick visual jokes and carefully buried references. This is a film that includes Jonah Hill screaming like a loon as he's attacked by an octopus, then later throws out a reference to Benny Hill-esque chase scenes and rolls out a spot-on parody of college slam poetry shows. Even 22 Jump Street's dumbest moments somehow seem smart when one takes into account the level of self awareness from everyone involved. 

Also noteworthy is the directing duo's ability to direct comedy from a visual and narrative standpoints. Setpieces are cleanly staged, and the film never strains to be more than a fun, goofy comedy. Lord and Miller ensure that the film is as easy to watch as it is to laugh at. Though I'd label something like Bridesmaids as being a much funnier film, Jump Street is easily the better directed and edited effort. Editing duo Keith Brachmann and David Rennie are astute at cutting both small, awkward moments, as well as the handful of fights, shootouts, and chases. They know how to move from shot to shot without getting in the way of the flow of the joke-a-minute humor.  

The work in front of the camera is also hugely enjoyable. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are even more comfortable in their roles as before, and handle the actual jokes as well as the winks to the audience with equal skill. New cast members, like Amber Stevens' art student love interest and Jillian Bell as her no-nonsense room mate prove to be valuable female additions, which Ice Cube earns some of the biggest laugh as Hill and Tatum's direct supervisor. Bell deserves special mention among the supporting cast, namely for a ridiculous fist fight she has with Hill's character. Meanwhile, comedy duo The Lucas Brothers (Keith and Kenny Yang) are scene stealers in their handful of scenes as the protagonist's fast-talking dorm neighbors. 

On the whole, 22 Jump Street is so enjoyably silly and funny that it's hard to nitpick without feeling like a Debbie Downer. Yet there are two small issues to take note of. The first is that, after a certain point, the references to the film's status as a sequel feel forced compared to the jokes that are coming out of actual situations. The second is that, as fast as the pacing is, the film feels just a hair too long. It builds to what seems like a climax only to take a breath and then rev its engine up again for the real finale. 

There. That's it. That's all that's really, noticeably wrong. Otherwise, this is a rare comedy sequel that surpasses the original. Not only that, but it packs in so many jokes and references that it's practically required that you watch it multiple times to see what you missed while you were laughing at the bigger jokes. The end credits of 22 Jump Street do a great job of poking fun at Hollywood's over reliance on sequels and franchises, yet, in the hands of Lord and Miller, it's hard to see this franchise outstaying its welcome. At least for one more movie. 

Grade: B/B+

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