If there is such a thing as a meta-sequel, then this flagrantly silly and self-aware follow-up to 2012's 21 Jump Street is it. How so? Because 22 Jump Street explodes the whole concept of franchise filmmaking and then studies the shards to figure out why audiences are always panting to see the same damn thing over and over.
Sorry. I'm not trying to make a term paper out of a throwaway summer farce. 22 Jump Street is damn funny, sometimes outrageously so. It laughs at its own dumb logic and invites us in on the fun.
Look at the title: 22 Jump Street refers to the new address where undercover cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) still take orders barked by Capt. Dickson (a priceless Ice Cube). But headquarters has moved across the street. 21 Jump was fronted by a Korean Jesus. The new, hightech HQ at 22 Jump features a Vietnamese Jesus outside.
The captain, angry and clueless as ever, no longer thinks the thirtyish Schmidt and Jenko can pass for high schoolers. So, wait for it, he sends them to college to nail a drug syndicate. That they don't fit in is a given. That we're basically watching the same movie we did the last time is a fact of sequel life.
That we don't mind so much is due to several factors, starting with Hill and Tatum, a comic team capable of breathing life into atrophied buddymovie clichés that were already old when Johnny Depp starred in the cheesy 1980s TV series. As stars and co-producers of the movie, Hill and Tatum (Hill co-wrote the story) are in on the joke and happily willing to mock their respective images.
Hill, a two-time Oscar nominee (Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street), kids his thespian side by having Schmidt hang with the arts crowd and hook up with poetry-loving Maya (Amber Stevens), whose roomie Mercedes (a scene-stealing Jillian Bell) mercilessly rides him as a geriatric loser. Tatum, ever the jock, busts loose when Jenko joins the football team and gets all man-crushy with blondie quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell, the talented son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn).
The real bromance, of course, is Schmidt and Jenko's, echoing the college friendship of returning directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie). These lords of mischief know their brutal sequel-baiting wouldn't be worth much without characters to root for and the right actors to give them humor and heart.
But, darn, it's great to see Hollywood's addiction to recycling get royally skewered. From the opening stunt on an 18-wheeler to a spring-break rager, everything is bloated to the max. And a scarily hilarious coda that rolls out ideas for endless Jump Street follow-ups is alone worth the ticket price. They say you always hurt the thing you love. Thanks to this team of merry pranksters, 22 Jump Street hurts so good.