22 Jump Street is an exercise in semiotics. It is, to put it bluntly, not much of a film but an idea for a film that aligns with a zeitgeist in contemporary cinema. The film functions in a meta-universe that acknowledges its predecessor (2012’s 21 Jump Street) and possesses the intrinsic awareness of its own sequel-ness. It’s hard to imagine the producers of 21 Jump Street thinking that rebooting a 80s property with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum would’ve been much of a gamble, but the discourse found throughout 22 Jump Street is one that finds itself wondering why it exists: that question crossed my mind as well.
As recent comedy sequels (Hangover II, Anchorman 2) have all essentially lifted the template of their success from their predecessors, 22 Jump Street’s self-awareness calls to complicate that measure. Writers Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman make it clear from the onset: the budget is bigger, the stakes are not. The notion to sticking to what works is the film’s mantra - the fact that this is verbally reinforced throughout the duration of 22 Jump Street proves to be one of the most tapped sources of humor through the film.
The film’s setting shifts from high school to college, with Tatum and Hill reprising their roles. But whereas 21 Jump Street offered an interesting revision of archaic high school social structures (the learned and emotionally attuned granola kids were now the in-crowd), this college-focused setting does away with any particular insights of its milieu. Perhaps it’s because the setting is more familiar (there certainly must at least be a 2:1 ratio of college films to high school pictures), but nothing about MC State or its campus dwellers feels particularly new - though perhaps the point (McState).
22 Jump Street’s persistent attempts at reinforcing doubles falls in line with many of the picture of 2014 and their concerns with a second-self (The Double, The One I Love , Enemy). But this film takes this precedence to another level by reevaluating itself in light of its predecessor. “Sameness” is sought for; anything that complicates the sturdy dynamic that Tatum and Hill have cultivated is met with audience reprieve. This is a film that sees its greatest comic achievements through subtle accents.
Yet those familiar with director Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s work (21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie) would understand that subtly isn’t a trait that possess. They are directors of considerable efficiency but their hyperactivity demonstrates restlessness over anything else. One could accuse director Edgar Wright of a similar hyperactivity (Hot Fuzz submits a more persuasive reevaluation of action-comedy tropes), but at least his pictures have a developed visual construction that suggest a fundamental awareness how to compose a dramatic scene, action sequence, etc.
Recall the highway chase in 21 Jump Street: the jokey premise of an explosion occurring was undermined and only realized at its most absurd. In 22 Jump Street, everything explodes and everything is absurd. There’s a constant sense of cynicism to its construction that calls to question the entire culture of sequels and its consumers. Cumulatively, it’s a clever statement that doesn’t hinder the 22 Jump Street’s fundamental desire to provoke a laugh. But this is a singular note that’s played to excess, providing density but not quite the richness that it strives for.