Well, here's an innovative way to go about making a truly successful comedic sequel. Rather than lazily checking a bunch of boxes that repeat the most successful moments in its predecessor (like this movie) or awkwardly elevating an ancillary character to a starring role to get the band back together (like this movie), 22 Jump Street gives a full and warm embrace to its cheesy sequel-y traits and kicks on.
Over and over again, I've written about how difficult it is to make a satisfying sequel to a beloved comedy. There are so many pitfalls and so few paths to follow that will make fans happy. What I never considered until 22 Jump Street was that one of those paths could be a seemingly endless cascade of winky references by characters in the film to the fact that you, the audience, are watching a sequel -- that, in effect, you are in on the big joke arching over all of the others here.
The sequel pairs up Dets. Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) for another undercover case. There are numerous similarities to their first big one. They impersonate college students instead of high schoolers, but they are still getting a fake education. They are trying to uncover the identity of another dangerous drug dealer. The case strains their opposites-attract relationship in a way that dances the line between bromance and latent homoeroticism.
Do the details really matter? In this case, the answer is an easy and authoritative no.
Yes, 22 Jump Street is a meta comedy sequel -- an extension and improvement upon its meta predecessor, the surprisingly good 21 Jump Street -- and we live in an age of meta.
It's well-suited to 2014, indeed.
Each and every "do it exactly like last time," from Ice Cube's Capt. Dickson ought to disarm most of the skeptics of this film. Tatum's perfectly landed joke about not having the budget for Cate Blanchett (when he "means" carte blanche) ought to finish even the greatest of them off.
Most importantly of all for directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, they recognize that they have something special in the easy chemistry between their stars. Tatum, a better actor than he gets credit for being, outshines the more experienced comedian Hill often, a hilarious dimwit on the level of Derek Zoolander. Hill, uncomfortable in his own skin as Schmidt, gets plenty of comedic mileage out of his character's boundless insecurities.
Much of the trick for Lord and Miller is just getting out of their stars' collective way. But the rest of it is an exceedingly clever willingness to be self-aware as they hit up potentially jaded moviegoers for another $10 or $15.
Would this approach work for other comedies? I doubt it. They have gifted stars and they are working in a genre -- the buddy cop procedural -- that, to some degree at least, naturally lends itself to repetitive story arcs. Knowing thyself is important in any realm -- filmmaking is no different -- and all that matters is that Lord and Miller seem to have a perfectly tuned sense of their place in the cinematic world.