The second time around for this self-mocking bromance-cop caper is a daffy delight. "22 Jump Street" is not only one of summer's biggest surprises, but just might be the funniest movie of the season.
With a light satirical tone, the returning filmmakers poke fun at the very nature of sequels being a no-brainer cash grab and the done-to-death buddy cop premise. The self-awareness is amusing, and makes the less-than-successful immature jokes tolerable.
Keep in mind that the plot is incidental, just as it was in "21 Jump Street." The main focus is the odd couple chemistry between super-jock Jenko (Channing Tatum) and schlemiel Schmidt (Jonah Hill).
The BFF partners go undercover, this time posing as college students, to nab drug dealers. The first movie, based on the TV show that made Johnny Depp a star, was a serious spoof of cops posing as high school students to nab drug dealers.
The college setting provides a cavalcade of comic possibilities, from dorm room essentials to quirky roommates to tenured professors (Patton Oswald!). You can just imagine all the jokes sprung from Jenko's Human Sexuality class.
Jenko becomes a football hero, Schmidt meets a girl at a poetry slam, and the partners go their separate ways to "sow their cop oats."
Tatum and Hill have that elusive chemistry that makes the difference in lasting relationships on the silver screen. The hunky Tatum displays an effortless charm and willingness to mock the golden boy image that endears him even more. Hill, hammering home the Man-Child persona, can get annoying, but if you accept his blowhard rambling, it mostly works.
Wyatt Russell, the good-looking and athletic son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, has a natural screen presence and a beefy role as Zook, the fast football and frathouse friend.
Wearing a permanent scowl, Ice Cube ("Ride Along") is hilarious as the crabby boss Captain Dickson, while the wondrous Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation") makes the most of his small role.
Stealing the movie, however, is former SNL writer Jillian Bell ("Workaholics") as Maya's sarcastic roommate Mercedes. Her deadpan delivery of age jokes is a joy to behold.
Peter Stormare ("Fargo") is the stock villain, and Ashley Stevens is sweet as art major Maya. The Lucas Brothers, comical in looks too, are funny as roommates.
Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, writers themselves on "The Lego Movie" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," are an ambitious pair. They could be heirs to David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker -- aka ZAZ of "Airplane!" fame, with their aim-for-the-fences sight gags and zingers they stuff into an obvious retread. They make it breezy and fun.
Co-writers Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman display a sharp wit and a creative flair. The screwball comedy's silliness hits the right chords with the millionth male bonding theme, and achieves the proper balance between fresh and familiar.
The must-see end credits are a stroke of genius, and provide as many laughs as the entire movie. Stay for their entirety -- a clever mash-up for the ages.
What Doesn't Work
The male bonding is the focus, so take that into consideration when the plot starts running out of steam near the finale. A little trim here and there would have helped keep it moving.
For the most part, this movie hits its targets more than it misses, and achieves an almost unheard of goal -- that it's a sequel better than its original source material.
3 stars out of 4
Director: Christopher Miller, Phil Lord
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Wyatt Russell, Nick Offerman, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare,
Rated: R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence