The phenomenon of the self-referential comedy is a hit-or-miss proposition. One must be self-aware without much in the way of self-indulgence, and "22 Jump Street" occasionally fails to understand that. This film, the sequel to 2012's exuberant "21 Jump Street," does seem to understand that sequels are inherently monetary affairs, voiced quite literally by Dep. Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) when he berates our two returning protagonists for half-destroying a port during an operation. "Do the same thing, everyone's happy," he says. Seemingly true to his word, the film responds by over-compensating on both a derisive condescence toward doing the same, old thing and a solid determination to do the same, old thing. It works, but the balance here is uneven.
Following their undercover sting operation that ended so memorably two years ago, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill)--sadly without the love interests played by Ellie Kemper and Brie Larson that complemented them so well--are now sent into MC State to stake out a new, synthetic drug known as WHYPHY that has killed a young woman. Its side effects begin as rather low-key (a laser-like focus upon whatever the consumer is currently doing), followed by a horribly hallucinatory trip. If it sounds familiar, that's because it is, but Schmidt's protests and Jenko's suggestion that they just join the Secret Service and protect the White House (You read that correctly, perceptive folk) don't convince Hardy or Capt. Dickson (an excellent Ice Cube), whose undercover headquarters have moved across the street from 21 Jump St. to number 22 (Construction on 23 Jump St. has already begun, notes Schmidt to Jenko).
Unfortunately, the social preparation for the high-school setting of before are not nearly enough for the college one of this film, and soon Jenko and Schmidt part ways. Jenko befriends Zook (Wyatt Russell), a football star who has apparently never quite had an equal on or off the team. Schmidt falls head over heels for Maya (Amber Stevens), who lived in the dorm across the hall from the victim and who now shares the victim's abrupt, intrusive former roommate Mercedes (a riotous Jillian Bell. As they navigate the the ins and outs of college life (Jenko never attended), they must also investigate the case itself, which inevitably becomes more and more labyrinthine as red herrings and cul-de-sacs make themselves known.
Actually, the central case is painfully predictable from the get-go, especially when one considers that the film to which it belongs is riffing on the nature of sequels--one of which is to deviate from its predecessor's narrative developments, even as it might share its structure. Where the first film held intrigue and surprises along the way, this one proves far easier to cotton onto. As a comedy, it's fairly limp from a satirical standpoint (Pointing out issues doesn't excuse one's movie, if one's movie suffers from the same ones, though the end credits are a hoot), but the broader gags work like gangbusters, such as when the identity of Maya's father is revealed (the less said about the poorly-timed references to Tracy Morgan and the late Maya Angelou, the better). "22 Jump Street" does work, though, as an amusing, summer-comedy diversion--raucous enough to be quite funny at its best and valuable in the chemistry between Hill and Tatum, who nail this sort of thing seemingly without trying.
Jonah Hill (Schmidt), Channing Tatum (Jenko), Ice Cube (Capt. Dickson), Wyatt Russell (Zook), Amber Stevens (Maya), Jillian Bell (Mercedes), Peter Stormare (The Ghost), Keith Lucas (Keith Yang), Kenny Lucas (Kenny Yang), Nick Offerman (Dep. Chief Hardy), Jimmy Tatro (Rooster), Caroline Aaron (Annie Schmidt), Craig Roberts (Spencer), Marc Evan Jackson (Dr. Murphy), John Chrest (David Schmidt), Eddie J. Fernandez (Scarface), Rye Rye (Jr. Jr.), Johnny Pemberton (Delroy), Stanley Wong (Roman), Dax Flame (Zack), Patton Oswalt (Professor), Rob Riggle (Mr. Walters), Dave Franco (Eric Molson), Bill Hader (Assassin Chef), Queen Latifah (Mrs. Dickson), Seth Rogen (Alternate Schmidt), Richard Grieco (Booker), Dustin Nguyen (Vietnamese Jesus).
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and written by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, based on the television series "21 Jump Street" created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell.
Rated R (language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity, violence).
Released on June 13, 2014.