Sequels — sheesh, amirite, folks? Contradictorily bigger and louder and more expensive than their predecessors and also cheaper and smaller and lazier. So of course I went into 22 Jump Street all, "I loved the first one but sequels, geez, c'mon already Hollywood," grumbling as the lights went down.
And just as I was humbled by the fact that 21 Jump Street was a far better reboot of a TV show than any right-thinking movie fan should have expected, I was humbled again. 22 is funnier, wittier and snarkier than 21. It is nonstop self-deprecation, as if it is embarrassed by its "sequel to a reboot" status, and it doles out well-deserved smacks to about 817 Hollywood things that desperately deserve it: TV shows that become movies, sequelitis, dumb cops, dumb action heroes, meet-cutes, obvious red herrings, buddy cops, buddy comedies, bromances, gun fights, fist fights, college comedies, frat comedies (just the small amount here beats Neighbors), 30-something actors playing teenagers. Dammit, even the deliberately clichéd soundtrack is deployed to brilliant comedic effect.
I haven't laughed so hard in ages. The kind of laughter where you didn't think you were capable of such transport and you're a little scared by it. By the end credits — which are, dear God, insanely funny in how they knock everything you dread for the future of even a franchise this good — I was on the verge of an actual crackup.
One little moment sorta encapsulates what 22 Jump Street is doing. Cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) have "graduated" to going undercover at "Metro City State College." They're investigating a drugs case that is "just like last time." And Jenko finds himself unexpectedly enthralled by his Human Sexuality class. As he's devouring the textbook, he says to Schmidt, with a newly self-aware horror, "Did you know I used gay slurs all through high school?"
And he's sorry about this! It's like a little metaphor for how Hollywood can be taught and enlightened. This movie is as big and loud and goofy as an action-comedy sequel can be, and yet it's (mostly) not stupid, sexist or homophobic. For good measure there's a running joke about how Jenko, who is dumber than a bag of Glocks, sometimes realizes this, and laments how it limits him. "Fuck you, brain," he says, rather sadly, to himself, and it zings by before you even realize how brilliant that is.
Returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman and Jonah Hill (yup, same one) don't get it all 100 percent right: There's an aside with Rob Riggle and Dave Franco, bad guys from the first film, that's a little uncomfortable and never truly funny. But it's still not quite the same old sort of retrograde shit so many other similar movies end up with.
Any failure's almost made up for by a long game of a joke that addresses the frequent hypocrisies of how men approve, or don't, of other men's sexual conquests. And also by the just plain niceness of the humor. So much of what passes for Hollywood comedy is mean spirited, taking easy swipes at the powerless and downtrodden. 22 Jump Street punches up, at the excesses and inanities of Hollywood, and not down at targets who don't deserve it — and even then, it's never cruel about it.