Catching the memorable end credits of '22 Jump Street' out of the corner of my eye while watching other movies at the drive-in, I wondered what they were all about. You see, I knew next to nothing about the '21 Jump Street' TV show that it was based on, even though my better half grew up on it. All I knew was that it was on TV back in the eighties and it starred a very young Johnny Depp. That's it.
So I did some prep work before I watched this one. I took in the two part pilot of that old show, which began in 1987, and then the first modern movie, which took the same name and was released on its 25th anniversary in 2012. Both follow the same basic concept, which is a particularly tough one to buy into, namely that a bunch of cops, who apparently don't fit well on the beat for some reason or other, are sent undercover instead. Into a high school.
Now Depp was admittedly young at the time, the show's run kicking off after his small role in 'Platoon' but before he found his way to stardom in films like 'Cry-Baby' and 'Edward Scissorhands'. He's always had a baby face, but he wasn't high school young; he was 24 when the show started and he was clearly too old to be there, thus breaking our believability from moment one. That nobody really calls him on it is a notable issue that is impossible to ignore.
Taking the equivalent role, Morton Schmidt, in both the 2012 movie and this sequel, is Jonah Hill. He was Oscar-nominated a year earlier for 'Moneyball' and again a year later for 'The Wolf of Wall Street', so he's clearly a capable actor, albeit one mostly known for Judd Apatow comedies like 'Knocked Up', 'Superbad' and 'Get Him to the Greek'. Hill doesn't remotely have the baby face Depp did in 1987 and he was five years older to boot. If we couldn't buy Depp in this sort of role, we sure ain't buying Hill either, however many Oscars he gets himself nominated for. What's more, his co-star, Channing Tatum, was three years older than him.
In other words, there's no way that we can buy anything at all in '21 Jump Street'. We can't buy that these two morons, Schmidt the stereotypical nerd and Greg Jenko, the stereotypical jock, are able to function in society, let alone become cops. Even the idiots in the 'Police Academy' series are far more believable on that front and when those guys seem realistic by comparison, we know we're in trouble. We certainly can't buy them undercover as high school students, not for one moment. They shoot themselves in the foot as soon as they arrive and they continue to do it for the entire running time of the film, as obviously as they can.
Fortunately directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are well aware of this. They're in on the joke and they crank it up to eleven. Scriptwriter Michael Bacall doesn't attempt to play any part of it straight; that's perhaps the best thing about the resulting film, which is a horrible mess otherwise. It doesn't work as another modern remake, it doesn't work as a nostalgic trip down memory lane and it doesn't work as that omnipresent 21st century concept, a franchise reboot. The only thing it works at is parody. Well, that and making money; it earned almost five times what it cost, hence this inevitable sequel with a bigger budget.
If '21 Jump Street' was a parody, not only of the original show but of most film archetypes of the eighties, '22 Jump Street' is a parody of eighties film sequels too. The funniest parts of the first film were the ones where Deputy Chief Hardy explains to his idiot charges why he's sending them back to high school. In a blatant blast of self awareness, he explains that, 'We're reviving a canceled undercover police program from the '80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.'
It's funny because it's true, but it does come close to being a slap in the face to the audience. Bacall points out how utterly worthless the idea behind his film is to the very people who are watching it. Doing that again in the sequel feels even more like an insult, proof that Hollywood can screw us and, if the ratings at IMDb are anything to go by, only make us ask for more. We're that conditioned, it would seem. It feels like the entire first half of this sequel is built out of dialogue that explains how stupid anyone would be to watch it, let alone pay for the privilege to do so.
These idiot cops ask what they should do in the sequel. 'Do exactly what you did last time,' he tells them, which means that they go undercover as students and try to find the dealers responsible for the drug du jour that killed some kid, merely at college this time instead of high school. As the plot unfolds, we all learn how close to 'exactly' it becomes. 'It's just like last time!' one lead exclaims. 'Exactly like last time,' acknowledges the other. Both Hill and Channing are very careful to make sure that we understand those lines are delivered to us as much as to each other, but maybe the people laughing so much don't get that joke. Take my money, they say. Insult us some more.
To be fair, one of the trailers that screened before this film reminded me at an opportune moment that I've seen a lot worse than '22 Jump Street', which is probably a little less awful than its predecessor. The third 'Dumb and Dumber' movie may be proof positive that we need to put America out of its misery. Compared to that trailer this is high art, but then I could produce something with more substance and meaning by taking a dump in a fishbowl, so that's hardly saying much.
'22 Jump Street' is stupid, blatant and idiotic, but it does a fair job of highlighting that much of what we remember from the eighties with a jaunty sense of nostalgia was stupid, blatant and idiotic too. This probably works best as that public service announcement. Given that we get to go on Spring Break in Mexico yet see no boobies, PSA value doesn't carry too much weight but it is something.
If '21 Jump Street' was a film whose best attribute was that it ended (well, that and Johnny Depp's make-up in his brief cameo appearance), '22 Jump Street' does at least have a killer end credits sequence to elevate it. There's more condensed truth in those few minutes, along with Deputy Chief Hardy's lines, than your average film school class. Hollywood isn't about art; it's about making money and this duology made a lot of it by telling us how ruthlessly they're milking us.
I just hope and pray that those credits mean that we're really never going to see '23 Jump Street'. If Bacall didn't make his point in one film, he certainly made it in two. We don't need a third. Where's the petition I can sign to make sure it never happens?