Having cracked a high-school drug ring, undercover cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are sent to college to investigate crazy new narcotic WHYPHY (Work Hard Yes Play Hard Yes). Will they survive to see Spring Break?
In the grand tradition of comedy follow-ups like Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Airplane II: The Sequel ("Ted, I have the strangest feeling we've been through this exact same thing before"), 22 Jump Street has a giddy time going full meta. The new headquarters of useless policemen Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is, as befits a pumped-up, budget-enhanced sequel, far swankier than their original digs, complete with a slick office for Ice Cube's character that resembles an actual ice cube. Meanwhile, an early action sequence suggesting that the franchise is about to blast off in a new direction is quickly put paid to by the heroes' pencil-pushing superior (Nick Offerman). "This department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going," he chides, shooting down Tatum's suggestion that the duo join the (boom) Secret Service. Instead, they're going back to school — specifically, college — in a case that mirrors, beat-for-beat, the original movie.
Playing it safe has scuppered many a sequel in the past. But Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the sharp brains behind The Lego Movie, know what they're doing. They stick to formula so forcefully, and with such inventive flourishes, that the joke gets funnier and funnier with repetition. Best of all are the clips that unspool over the end credits, lampooning the current trend for stings by teasing not just the next Jump Street but the next couple of dozen, plus ancillary media. (For the record: we really want to see the cartoon that teams Jenko and Schmidt with an octopus.)
There's little character development: one of our heroes (Tatum) is still a lunk who confuses "carte blanche" for "Cate Blanchett", the other (Hill) still a neurotic softie who's equally useless at improvising his way through a drug-cartel meet or a slam-poetry contest. The plot, which revolves around a jockish quarterback played by Wyatt Russell (Kurt's son) and his possibly nefarious bro-gang, is nothing much to speak of. But the stars remain an inspired, even loveable, double-act: a couple of party-hearty Drebins, or Bill and Ted with handguns. The new spin here is that the buddy cops' passion for each other is starting to wane — they want to investigate other people. Hot Fuzz got there first, but the homoeroticism here is hotter and fuzzier. 22 Jump Street cranks it up to hysterical levels, not least with some wonderful use of split-screen.
As with the original movie, there are a fair few flabby stretches and some single-joke characters (one baddie complains that crime was better in the '90s at least 54 times). It's hard to begrudge it a little slackness here and there, though, given the frenetic blizzard of jokes elsewhere. If Lord and Miller have been subjected to notes from "the department", it doesn't show: there's an exuberance and silliness here that doesn't diminish for the whole two hours. Rare is the film that understands the pleasures of letting an enraged Ice Cube take out his wrath on an all-you-can-eat buffet. And which other blockbuster in 2014 would interrupt its climactic car chase to lob in a gag about Benny Hill?
Lord and Miller go Bad Boys 2, adding Peter Stormare, back-to-back gun-pointing and mucho excess. The action's bigger, Ice Cube's angrier. Another silly treat.