Like the line of dialogue that is both so familiar and so needlessly quoted again and again in 22 Jump Street, I’m starting to think I might be gettin’ too old for this shit.
Oh, I don’t think I’m in any danger of fully maturing, ever. I still collect toys and like giant robots and monsters and aliens and stuff. What I have less interest in is a movie that spends its entire second act trying to coast on a single joke; that joke being, “Ha ha! Those best friends are accidentally acting gay!”
I’m not offended by it in any righteous sense – it’s a joke that could work if it were at the expense of, say, Orson Scott Card and the corpse of Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps. But when the movie goes out of its way to have Channing Tatum express remorse for past homophobia, and beat a guy up for saying “faggot,” that takes away the ironic-humor factor, leaving only the notion that it’s somehow inherently funny to seem gay, even though gay is normal. When I was 11, I might have thought it was amusing too, but time has moved on for some of us.
Via exposition from Nick Offerman’s Deputy Chief Hardy, we learn that this new “mission” for our heroes needs to be pretty much the same as last time, only now they have a bigger budget because their first team-up proved unexpectedly popular. It’s a joke that quickly wears thin, and pretty ironic considering that even Seth MacFarlane has moved on from such obvious meta-commentary in his movies. So now Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are going to college to look once more for dangerous new drugs.
I will give this movie major props on one significant detail – its dorm rooms are realistically tiny, as opposed to the luxury suites you see in most college comedies.
Last time around, the major joke was that Jenko, the handsome jock, was no longer part of the in-crowd in the modern world of high school, and Schmidt excelled at being the popular one due to his affinity for computers and multicultural tolerance. The sequel flips the script right back – this college is dominated by jocks in fraternities, and while there’s one clever bit of cross-cutting that demonstrates how alike parties are whether you’re a fratboy or an art major, the balance ultimately tilts in favor of jocks good, nerds mostly bad, except for the hot one Schmidt bangs in a sex scene cut so awkwardly you’ll never believe it actually happened. Also: ha ha, teh gay.
And yet things turn around, comedy wise, thanks to Ice Cube. Yes, you heard right – the star of Are We There Yet and the Friday sequels, the guy who gave us Mike Epps in place of Chris Tucker and thought we’d find him equally amusing…is the funniest person in the movie. Possibly because he actually takes his hardass character seriously, he gives us the best caricature of the angry ’80s police chief since Last Action Hero. When he finally kicks the boys’ asses into gear for the climax, the movie finally lays off the warmed-over Ambiguously Gay Duo gags and goes for some more ambitious setpieces – an awkward fistfight between Hill and Jillian Bell, who plays his love interest’s angry roommate, is a standout.
When you look at 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie side by side, both directed by the same team, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that your conservative high-school teachers probably tried to convince you of years ago – free rein to be as profane and dirty as you like can actually stifle creativity, while boundaries and censorship make you find clever alternatives. I’m not saying that’s always true, but in the case of Chris Miller and Phil Lord this year, it definitely seems to be. The end credits of 22 Jump Street, forced to be reliant on visual humor, are almost endlessly inventive, reminiscent of some of their Lego gags, and by far the best thing in the film. Essentially, they take the Marvel Studios notion that final credits should set up sequels and spin-offs, and go way, waaaay further.
But hey, maybe I’m just too old to find uproarious the notion that male bonding sometimes accidentally resembles gay relationships. And maybe I’m na?ve to think we should all be past that point. If you’re too young to see this movie unaccompanied, you’re probably just the right audience.
You’ll also be disappointed by the lack of boobies.