June 16, 2014

Film review: '22 Jump Street'

By Carl Kozlowski *

These days, it seems a sequel or reboot of a prior hit movie is released seemingly every week. In most cases, the filmmakers involved are so cynical about the product they’re pushing that they fully expect audiences to accept the rehashes unquestioningly.

While this weekend’s “22 Jump Street” seems like yet another example of this disheartening trend, it’s actually the rare sequel to acknowledge that it’s a retread and flip that admission into something that, while often raunchy and absolutely only for adults, is also clever and pretty entertaining. The key here is clearly the talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera, as both “22” and its predecessor – 2012’s hit “21 Jump Street,” itself a reinvention of a nearly-forgotten ‘80s cop show on the Fox TV network – feature two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill in the lead role of Schmidt alongside one of the hottest stars in the business, Channing Tatum, as Jenko.

More importantly, the direction in both films comes from the duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who have also brought the highly acclaimed animated hits “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Lego Movie” to the screen. With two lead actors capable of doing much more than a formula picture and two directors who have upped the game on smart writing in their kids’ films, chances were good for “22” to up the game as well, and thankfully it has.

Don’t get me wrong, the main plot is simple and often stupid. In both films, Hill and Tatum play cops who are sent back to school on undercover assignments to stop illegal drugs from reaching student populations.

In “21,” they went to high school, with the pudgy Schmidt becoming improbably popular with a newer, more sensitive generation of students and Jenko comically perplexed by the fact his jock personality isn’t in vogue anymore. The result was a hilarious spoof on high school movies and stereotypes, male bonding and macho cop behavior, and in “22” they achieve much of the same by sending the guys to college, pretending to be brothers sharing a dorm room.

In “22,” the college shenanigans flip things upside down for the guys, as Schmidt is stuck hanging out with social-loser artists and Jenko becomes a star football player for the college. But Schmidt also finds himself happily pursuing a relationship with an African-American student which starts as a one-night stand but quickly turns to something genuine – the only problem is, Schmidt doesn’t realize that his new lover is the daughter of his police chief (played with hilarious menace by Ice Cube), leading to all manner of problems.

The key to the “Jump Street” movies being hugely entertaining (well, to those who like buddy-cop comedies with a brain) lies not in their ultra-simple core criminal plots. Rather, it’s in brilliantly deconstructing and poking sharply pointed fun at the homoerotic tendencies lurking beneath nearly every buddy-cop TV show and movie ever made. Whenever the guys have a disagreement or decide to split their case work in two different directions, the scenes have an undertone of romantic breakups that makes for priceless comedy.

Most of the time, this is goofy (albeit profane) fun, and nothing that adults with a broad sense of humor can’t handle. It’s not pushing a “gay agenda” either, but having surprisingly un-PC fun with the feminization of men in so much of today’s popular culture, whether in sports or cop movies. There is only one scene in the movie itself and a brief post-credits moment at the tail end that cross the line into being truly offensive, as the cops go to get advice from the first movie’s villain and are subjected to hearing him brag about his bizarre sexual relationship with his cellmate.
Even these moments are a small percentage of the overall movie, which is mostly rated R for profanities (of which there’s a lot - seemingly over 200 "s" and "f" words - throughout the movie, though mostly they blend into the background of the comic mayhem), comic violence, along with some college-age drunkenness and a scene that has goofy fun with the guys having good and bad “trips” when they are slipped the illegal drug they are charged with stopping.  There is also a quick scene in which the police chief explains the difference between the abandoned Korean church they headquartered in in “21” and the Vietnamese church they’re ensconsed in now, where Ice Cube’s character pokes relatively innocent wisecracks at the differences in the Jesus statues. The Jesus statue appears very briefly dancing in the drug trip the guys have, as well.

Overall, this is one sequel that adds up as a movie adult viewers who are not easily offended by foul language can expect a “23” and a “24” from, and not be afraid to join in on the fun.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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