“22 Jump Street” A Leap of Whimsy
2 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s “22 Jump Street” is an often funny, loose- limbed collection of self-parody, adolescent naughtiness, feigned unconcern for custom and a lazily attempted lampoon of popular culture. If it had a screenplay as enthusiastic as its bawdy rambunctiousness, perhaps, to venture a variation on Terry Malloy’s soliloquy in “On the Waterfront” (1954), it could have been something.
As it stands, it is one big inside joke without a punchline…a series of snarky riffs and references with no point other than to suggest that there is no point in having a point. Methinks the commercially successful, entry level nihilism is but an entertainment way station…a Saturday night-at-the-multiplex diversion that will be remembered with nostalgic fondness when its current devotees develop a more sophisticated cinema palate.
As such, the sequel about a couple of kooky cops, reprised by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who go undercover to roust a drug ring that’s already caused one fatality at a college, is at times an interesting mirror of its target audience. That’s all well and good.
It’s only a tad disconcerting when — if you are of a certain age — the mass of teenagers who somehow gained entrance into this R-rated falderal chuckle at something you don’t get. As Bob Dylan opined in his “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “…something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you Mr. Jones?”
Happily, whatever allusions aren’t caught shouldn’t be of consequence, unless you’re a sociologist specializing in said population. Still, while much of Messrs. Lord and Miller’s comic free-for-all borrows from cinema’s greater body of slapstick and satire, you do have to give them credit for locating their viewership’s funny bone.
Mr. Hill as Morton Schmidt and Mr. Channing as Greg Jenko fit into their buddy film caricatures with notable aplomb — tailor-made to propagate the thread of nonchalant silliness that stitches together the random nuttiness. Important to the scenario’s signature ambiguity, they skillfully skirt the line between remotely credible and impossibly absurd, a process funny in and of itself.
The fantasy is — just as Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy proved before them — that by doing it your own way you can achieve your goal despite yourself, even if you aren’t even quite sure what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Heck…you can even go off on a tangent. After all, if it’s true that G-d protects drunkards, fools and children, these two are more or less covered on all counts.
But what really heightens the preposterous delusion and thus rationalizes the duo’s iconoclastic methodology is that when push comes to shove, they are not only competent cops, but in their own way hip upholders of truth, justice and the American way. Never mind that although on the hunt for the drug pusher, when Schmidt and Jenko are slipped a hallucinogenic, a scene full of Dali-like imagery is pumped for all its comic worth.
Such hypocrisy, always eventually righted by some serendipitously positive resolution, is part and parcel of the lunacy. Added to that and woven through the doings in the form of a running gag, the guys whimsically fabricate their own sort of machismo. It’s composed of equal parts faux homophobia and purposely overworked meditations on the bromance that is at the center of their ethos.
When Greg infiltrates the football team as a soon heralded wide receiver and is resultantly courted to join BMOC Zook’s (Wyatt Russell) fraternity, Schmidt’s resultant moping and pining furthers the gender play. The ploy is humorously analogous to the edgy but good-natured burlesque on sexuality the great Milton Berle performed for an earlier crowd when he donned a dress. Both confidently poke fun at convention.
Naturally, none of this heartache deters Hill’s likably unlikely hero in doofus’ clothing from mixing business with pleasure. Thus he pursues the charms of pretty co-ed Maya (Amber Stevens), who lived across the hall from the overdose victim. Here, the film pays unabashedly hackneyed homage to old school plot construction. Maya, as it turns out, happens to be Schmidt’s boss’ daughter. Yep, the same guy, angrily emoted by Ice Cube, who gave Schmidt a high five when he informed he had scored big on campus.
Pardon the hifalutin and overblown anatomy of this screwball comedy. One can’t help but be curious…idealistically hoping to discern some positive indicator…perhaps decipher the truth that Shakespeare assured us resides in all jest. But then as Willy could tell you right from “22 Jump Street,” this excuse for imbibing overpriced popcorn, nonpareils and soda is really just the current wrinkle in theater’s time honored tradition of depicting human folly.
“22 Jump Street,” rated R, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and stars Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Amber Stevens. Running time: 112 minutes