Rare is the comedy sequel that graduates with honors.
A handful from the Hollywood factory have done so, including "Toy Story 2," "Addams Family Values" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
More often, however, studios return to a cash cow with no new ideas and then give us sour milk. The lazy "Hangover" sequels spring to mind.
Given such failures, you'd think studio bigwigs would avoid the silly move of simply remaking the same movie and calling it a sequel. But the defiant "22 Jump Street," with its odd-couple pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, mostly does just that. And it pulls it off with hilarious irreverence that invites the audience to share in the circus act of winks, nods and in-jokes.
The second cinematic outing with the bromantically inclined Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) books the inept undercover cops on virtually the same mission -- impersonating students to collar a ringleader who is dealing killer drugs on campus. The only difference: They're heading to college, not high school, and now have a bigger budget to play with given the unexpected success of their first operation (wink, wink).
As you can tell, "22 Jump Street" lampoons its own existence, and the jovial screenplay from Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman hits more than misses that target. In fact, the randomly plotted film, which seems highly improvised, pokes fun at itself so often that it practically breaks all its ribs by the time its ingenious end credits roll and take the self-deprecation to even greater heights.
At times, all of this joshing gets a little much, with jokes about Schmidt and Jenko looking too old to be students becoming feeble and exhausted late in the game. Still, "22 Jump Street" works and earns a spot on the summer-movie honor roll.
The best laugh, besides a man-woman fist fight near the finale, come when Ice Cube's short-fused Captain Dickinson goes on a rant at a college lunch, and his frenzied fury collapses you into near "Bridesmaids" hysterics. Overall, though, it's the union of Hill and Tatum that makes the film such a smash.
The mismatched cop partners genre is overrun with good and not so-good pairings. The Hill-Tatum partnership, which looked terrible on paper, is bromantic fantastic. The strapping Tatum has a real gift for comedy, and his character's puppy-dog earnestness pingpongs off Hill's everyman inferiority complex perfectly. In a reversal from the first film, it's Tatum's rather dense Jenko who becomes instantly popular, landing on the football team and triggering a new bromance with the team's quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell). That relationship drives a wedge between the cop buddies, but Schmidt keeps busy, romancing art student Maya (Amber Stevens), which fuels a fistful of insults from her roommate, Mercedes (scene-grabber Jillian Bell).
Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("The Lego Movie" and "21 Jump Street") have a spirited and light touch and give the secondary actors enough elbow room to move around. But they grasp that it is the chemistry between Hill and Tatum that makes this franchise based loosely on the late-1980s/early-'90s TV series work.
None of what goes down on-screen makes one lick of sense, nor should it. "22 Jump Street" realizes its main goal is to be ridiculously fun and that to do so, it must be utterly ridiculous, as well as in on the joke.
If only more sequels could be so cheeky and self-aware.
'22 Jump Street'
* * *
Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell
Directors: Chris Miller and Phil Lord
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes