“Things are always worse the second time around,” Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) cautions our heroic pair of bumbling cops, Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum), at the start of 22 Jump Street – a sequel to a remake of a TV show. He’s talking about his charges’ imminent mission, with the boys again about to be sent undercover, this time to college. But returning scriptwriter Michael Bacall and fellow scribblers Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman are of course also flagging the pitfalls of the sequel. The first outing, continues Hardy, was an unexpected success, unburdened by expectation; this assignment will simply be more of the same, with more money and diminishing returns.
You have to be brave, confident or stupid to open your stick-to-formula, hike-the-budget sequel like that, and 22 Jump Street is all three – though thankfully the last is intentional and the ‘dumb’ humour (pratfalls, cock gags, Jenko’s bluntest-tool-in-the-box banter) is shrewdly packaged. Directed, like its predecessor, by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it rivals The Lego Movie for smarts and laughs. That, too, was directed by the dynamic duo, who are to comedy right now what Judd Apatow was in the mid-noughties.
Plot is the last thing on anyone’s mind, though it involves the search for latest drug WHY-FHY and the heartrending possibility, played deliciously OTT, that its supplier is Jenko’s new BFF, Zook (Wyatt Russell). Whatevs. All anyone really cares about – filmmakers or viewers – is the guffaws, with the constant jostle of physical humour, sight gags and one-liners approaching the gag-rate of Airplane! or an episode of Friends. This time it’s Jenko thriving in his new environment, Schmidt who’s flailing, and the homoeroticism of their threatened bromance is thrust to the hilt.
Along the way, no genre trope is left unmolested (“We were too old for this shit before this shit began,” sighs Schmidt) and the stars’ baggage is also mercilessly rooted through – see Jenko suggesting that he should protect the White House, or Schmidt liking the idea of going undercover at a Dance Academy because it’s something he’s good at. Hill and Tatum are terrific, their warmth and chemistry preventing all this meta-tomfoolery from becoming too clever for its own good, and yet Ice Cube steals every scene he’s in as the returning Captain Dickson, now angrier than ever.
If there's a fault it’s that 22 Jump Street is a touch too long. But just as it starts to drag - or rather we start to flag, for all this laughing is exhausting - a climactic set-piece matches the spectacle of the movies being ribbed, and the end credits nail down the title of 2014’s funniest scene.
Bigger and better – 22 Jump Street joins the exclusive list of sequels that out-gun their originals. We’re already knocking at the door of no.23…