13 June 2014

Review: 22 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Chris Miller, Columbia Pictures, 2014)


22 Jump Street 
2014, 115mins, 15
Director (s): Phil Lord, Chris Miller 
Writer (s): Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Jonah Hill, Rodney Rothman 
Cast includes: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, Wyatt Russell, Nick Offerman, Amber Stevens 
UK Release Date: 6th June 2014

Much like its predecessor- 2012’s “21 Jump Street” – “22 Jump Street” isn’t afraid to gently bite the hand that feeds. The original feature, adapted from the 80s procedural of the same name, took aim at Hollywood’s current obsession with revamping old brands in pursuit of lucrative opening weekends. Expectations weren’t high; yet the film was an impressive commercial and critical hit, audiences responding to the feature’s appropriate kineticism and sly luminosity. “22 Jump Street” unsurprisingly shifts focus to the demonic trend known as the studio sequel, ribbing the patterns and motivations that drive franchise cinema. “22 Jump Street” is an astounding practical joke, but one that audiences should respond to heartily. It’s effectively a remake of its older sibling, with only the stingiest of cosmetic changes applied, yet it uses this dearth of innovation to breed a cunning satirical undertone. It’s a smart feature, although one in which intelligence is squirrelled behind a deliberately brash wall of creative bankruptcy.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are still partners and steadfast friends, but since leaving the Jump Street program their professional triumphs have decreased. Recalled to repeat their successes in a college environment, the duo goes undercover, overseen once more by by the dependably impatient Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). Their mission is exactly the same; locate a drug-dealer on campus and use them to find the supplier. Easy? Not quite. College presents new challenges and relationships, all of which threaten the solidity of Jenko and Schmidt’s rapport along with the status of their assignment.

It’s been a remarkable couple of years for film-makers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, culminating with the gargantuan approval heaped on their other 2014 release “The Lego Movie”. They’ve built a reputation for upgrading duff projects with extreme acts of subversion, and “22 Jump Street” allows them to repeat the trick, this time by mocking the air-headed approach that precedes the Hollywood sequel. It’s admittedly an easier task than making a movie based on a toy line which rejects western ideals of collective consciousness, but that doesn’t diminish the laughs “22 Jump Street” stimulates. There are easy gags to be had (Captain Dickson must reinforce the sameness of the situation half a dozen times) but the directors bring substantial quirk in other places, honouring the fast-paced weirdness of their back-catalogue. They have a sharp eye for cinematic history (much like Edgar Wright) and that allows them to play ball with a number of other genres, not just the bombastic action sequel. There are strong nods to egregious product placement, the sexual perversions of college life (including great creepy roommate and walk of shame gags) and constant reference to the fantastical frat-house spectaculars of yore. We get a Peter Stormare turn stripped straight out of “Fargo” and a party atmosphere that ostensibly blends a clean-cut 1950s beach picture with last year’s debauched anomaly “Spring Breakers”. The original film was applauded for painting a very different high-school experience, replete with interesting social, sexual and recreational evolutions. On the other hand “22 Jump Street” exhibits the sort of College adventures we’ve seen on cinema screens thousands of times before; but that’s all part of the project’s riotous charm. The ambition it seems is to be as unambitious as possible.

Tatum and Hill are still a compatible comic combination. A quintessential odd-couple in nearly every sense, they rekindle their bromantic chemistry believably, even if “22 Jump Street” is less sincerely dramatic than the original. Some of the earnestness and feeling of the earlier picture is missed, “21” actually made a concentrated attempt to construct a unique and heartfelt connection between the leads. “22 Jump Street” reheats their prior spats with steroidal levels of homoeroticism; which is fine within the context of this specific feature, but a little disappointing given how amicable and sophisticated these goofs previously appeared. Their dynamic is underpinned by Hill’s generosity (he once again lets Tatum nab the stateliest jokes) and their combined energy, both happy to share the duties of straight man. Their ebb and flow is demonstrated early on in an improv/Octopus laden action sequence, clearing away any fear that rust or banality might have seeped into their rapport. The support is equally colourful. Ice Cube gives good fury, Nick Offerman revives his Ron Swanson routine satisfactorily and newcomers like the Yang Brothers and Jillian Bell embrace the movie’s atypical manifesto winningly. Everybody looks comfortable within the world Lord and Miller construct, leading to the appearance of an adaptable and focused ensemble.

The enhanced budget is a source of humour throughout, but it’s also notable in the film’s larger set-pieces. The scope of the opening scene in “22 Jump Street” matches the finale of the first flick, and the film-makers are happy to build from there. Lord and Miller seem comfortable with the demands of varied film-making schools, and they can now add big budget (relatively speaking) to their CVs. Still, it’s the unexpected moments of absurdity that define their tempo (punch-outs with smooching and the pleasures of bonding with lobsters), never better exemplified than by the hysterically metatextual overtures located during the end credits. Given the success of “The Lego Movie” they don’t even need “22 Jump Street” to land blockbusting receipts, but despite its strict (albeit reflexive) adherence to formula, the movie is funny enough to warrant celebration. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014


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