F. Gary Gray’s blimp rose alongside Ice Cube. In 1992, he directed Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” before directing the rapper-turned-actor’s cinematic debut Friday. He went on to carve a real name for himself at a ripe young age directing music videos for other black artists including Ice Cube homeboy and N.W.A. group member Dr. Dre, Tupac, Jay-Z and hip-hop supergroups Cypress Hill, TLC and Outkast. In 2003, Gray blew up the box office with a retelling of The Italian Job while his last film, Law Abiding Citizen, more blew up in his face. 6 years on, Gray has returned to Hollywood to aid in telling the tale of hip-hop superstar group N.W.A. (we’ll go by the innocent ignorance of Jerry Heller and pretend that’s the abbreviation for “No Whites Allowed) with Straight Outta Compton. Read More
A truly great comedy movie requires three things: pitch-perfect chemistry between its charismatic stars, a treasure trove of visual gags (preferably sans dongs, ball sacks, and/or fecal matter) and a waterfall of jokes that feel rightly organic; ad-libbed zingers that don’t come across like sweat-shop products whittled down by mouth-breathing jurors in some distant focus-lab. Overstuffed with these three golden characteristics, 22 Jump Street has all the makings of a comedy classic. A healthy improvement over the original, this higher budgeted follow-up chiefly takes on sequels and bromance in a deeply meta and surprisingly charming manner. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s saucy avenue for comedy is aptly winking and righteously unbarred, stirring up just the right amount of chagrin for the platitudes of (notoriously lame) studio sequels. In acknowledging the shortcomings of what their product could have been, Lord and Miller’s film is transcendent. It’s smart, funny and flowing with in-jokes for industry insiders and casual filmgoers as well. It’s a comedy for movie lovers by movie lovers and joke for joke, the funniest movie of the year. Further, it’s one that will likely remain in the “best of” comedy conversation for years to come.
The table is set with a playful “Previous on 21 One Jump Street” recap that doubles as an homage to the original Johnny Depp-lead television program while still providing a brief summation of the first film for people like me who haven’t seen it in a number of years. We reacquaint with odd couple cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) as they’re about to intercept a drug deal, or so they think. A hilariously off Mexican gangster impersonation follows and hijinks quickly sour with Schmidt receiving hickey by octopus and Jenko strung up from the heels.
Even though they majorly biff their first outing, these two flunky street cops soon find that the higher ups have them squarely in their sights. After the success of their first “mission”, the Mr. Money Bags on top are gambling even more on Schmidt and Jenko this time around. They’re dished out more money to throw around but expect an even greater degree of success. “You need to do things exactly as you did last time,” Nick Offerman‘s mustache of a Deputy Chief commands. The only way to achieve success after all is to play it safe. As the film pitches this very concept, the bastions of this artfully devious script do all they can to switch hit and deliver much meatier blow for it.
Screenwriters’ Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman‘s gumming is a devilishly obvious allusion to the studio system’s tight grip on franchising – whose “creativity” is more in tune with reproduction by assembly line than true originality – with third wall breaking so mightily pronounced that Hill and Tatum all but stare directly into the camera. But the irreverence of the entire cast and crew is deeply comic. Its seven layers of meta has sarcasm running so deep that their pot shots come fast and loose. Tatum essentially acknowledges how bottomed out White House Down was just as they later acknowledge how easy it would be to milk this franchise for all its worth. Also with a higher budget, we get things like Ice Cube‘s Ice Cube office. That’s right, Ice Cube has an office shaped like a cube of ice.
Schmidt and Jenko make their way to their next assignment, investigating a hybrid drug called WHYPHY (pronounced wifi and standing for Work Hard? Yes, Play Hard? Yes) at a local community college. While there, the two best buddies/partners begin to tear in different directions as Tatum and his bulbous throwing arm fall into the frat bro crowd, leaving Schmidt to find sentimental solace in gallons of ice cream and Friends re-runs and the artsy, fartsy community.
As far as ying and yang go, Hill’s wounded fay routine synchs perfectly with Tatum’s prom king duncemanship. As a college football announcer says (however not about their two characters) “They’re two peas in a pod.” Their comic timing is perfect as it their oddball dichotomy of character. Tatum’s cob-webbed thought process is blunted by Hill’s smart aleck ways and Lord and Miller find many opportunities to exploit their differences in hilarious and oft-kilter ways. Even if some of the laughs are expected, the amount of them will catch you off guard. It’s a non-stop flight of guffaws, a bullet train of side-splitters. Also, be sure to stick around for the credits which will likely have you rolling on the floor.
With their tongues planted deeply in cheek, Lord and Miller bring the same slapstick routine that defined The Lego Movie to this more adult adventure and it’s nothing short of a riot-fest to watch them peel back the many layers of this joke onion. But licking your way to the creamy center, one might be surprised to find some real heart buried amongst the awkward and yet sweet relationship between Hill and Tatum. While their matching at first looked like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, in 22 Jump Street, they really are two peas in one hell of a funny pod.
Coming from someone who has never seen 21 Jump Street, the new red band trailer for its sequel 22 Jump Street kind of makes me want to watch it. Starting off with a very self-aware speech by their captain, played by Nick Offerman, which winks at the audience, as if to say, “We know comedy sequels are a little ridiculous,” the trailer explains the arbitrary reason for the new title. This time they have to infiltrate a college, instead of a high school, but the premise is more-or-less the same as the first.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are set to return, accompanied by Ice Cube, to relive their glory days and search out a drug dealer of sorts. The intriguing thing about the perspective these films take is looking at the college or high school film genre, through the eye of someone older. It serves as a deconstruction that we take part in, as people who have been through those institutions and know that their Hollywood representations are mostly bullshit. A fish out of water story, mixed with action, mixed with a meta-genre commentary, will hopefully make this an enjoyable sequel, as long as they don’t fall into the Hangover trap.
22 Jump Street is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller and stars Channing Tatum, Nick Offerman, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube. It hits theaters on June 13, 2014