Comedy sequels are funny. Not funny ha-ha, but tricky. Even Dr. Evil with a flux capacitor and a slime blower couldn’t brainwash me into forgetting the horror of “The Hangover, Part 2.”
Some of the most successful comedy sequels are animated, such as the recent “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.” That ’toon was spearheaded by the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who are also making a sequel to “The Lego Movie.” The writer/directors’ cheeky attitude toward commercialism gooses the live-action sequel “22 Jump Street,” but the chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum is its driving force.
The movie starts with the words “Previously on ‘21 Jump Street’...” followed by a montage of scenes from the first episode. We’re reminded that brainy Schmidt (Hill) and brawny Jenko (Tatum) were teamed to go undercover and bust a drug ring at a high school. Now their unit has literally moved across the street, where gruff Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) assigns them a similar case at a local college. “Similar” as in “exactly the same.”
Although references to reboots and sequels are a recurring theme here, the movie doesn’t double down on deja vu. After Schmidt and Jenko move into the college dorm (as the dissimilar McQuaid brothers), “22” works on its own terms. To find the source of the drug “why/phy” (“work hard, yes; play hard, yes”), the 30-ish freshmen reluctantly agree to “investigate other people,” with Jenko joining the football team and Schmidt infiltrating the slam-poetry scene. (Tabloid-TV viewers will note that Schmidt’s tirade against homophobic language has real-world reverberations, as do references to Maya Angelou and Tracy Morgan.)
Schmidt’s investigation leads him to the bed of art student Maya (Amber Stevens), while tight end Jenko goes deep for quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt). Of course, in college, all roads lead south to a spring-break bacchanal. The Mexican mash-up of “Neighbors” and “Spring Breakers” is the cherry on this pina colada, with Schmidt complaining that the action-hero antics are busting the budget.
A self-aware sequel has to hop over hurdles to keep from swallowing its own tail, but the sharp writing and tag-team antics lift “22 Jump Street” to a high level.
What “22 Jump Street” • Three stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:52 • Content Strong language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence