I am an old man. The only song I’ve ever listened to or even liked is Bing Crosby’s cover of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” My hair is an intimidating combination of blonde highlights and heavily gelled spikes. To most of you, this may sound dumb and unlike any old person that you know, but that’s only because you’re not an old-timer and would never understand.
But that’s OK, because there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about you, the younglings, either. For example, what’s the big deal with all of this meta-humor and self-reflexivity in comedy these days? What’s wrong with just writing a joke? Why do we need to write a joke about writing a joke? There’s something lazy and exhausting about pop culture that knowingly cannibalizes itself, and it bothers me that I enjoy it as much as I do. But even still, my reticent appreciation for self-reflective comedy was put to the test with “22 Jump Street,” a film that never manages to stop talking about itself.
Although we got a taste of writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s comic sensibilities in “21 Jump Street,” “22 Jump Street” is the full meta-buffet. What little plot there is revolves around Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) going undercover at a local college to take down a drug ring, only to be repeatedly sidetracked by the distractions of campus life. If you didn’t realize this storyline is basically the same plot from “21 Jump Street,” don’t worry, “22 Jump Street” will remind you of this fact every five minutes. Not-so-subtle references to the film’s increased budget, predictability, and potential status as a long-running franchise are forcefully nailed into your forehead. It could have been incredibly annoying, but instead, this intense level of self-awareness is clever and sometimes inventive, such as the closing credits sequence that maps the diminishing returns of the inevitable sequels. From “23 Jump Street” to “Jump Street 2121” (which will apparently be set in space), the sequence is a silly but all too precise reminder of how Hollywood can drive a simple little premise into the ground.
Of course, “22 Jump Street” doesn’t just giggle uncontrollably as it points to its own reflection in the mirror; it’s also gently weird and carries the anarchic sensibilities of Lord and Miller’s unjustifiably forgotten MTV series “Clone High.” College football teams have improbable names like the Red Herrings and the College Generals, references to Benny Hill are subtly dropped, Ice Cube furiously attacks a buffet in cold blood, and Seth Rogan briefly appears as Hill’s character and mumbles something about contract disputes, only to quickly disappear again. It’s unpredictable and fun, like a parody movie without all the farts or references to Britney Spears’ vulva. Additionally, “22 Jump Street” is buoyed by the affable chemistry between Tatum and Hill as well as a veritable murderer’s row of comedic performers that includes Patton Oswalt, the Lucas Brothers, Nick Offerman, and Jillian Bell playing an evil, blank-eyed variation on the genial, blank-eyed character she plays on “Workaholics.”
Funny and knowingly odd, “22 Jump Street” is what Rudy Vallee would have called an “oofty, goofty sack of vinegar and sass,” or to put it in more contemporary terms, “shwaggy, swaggy bitchcool!1!” That’s what you kids are saying, right? Oh, dear God! I just broke my hip. I’m so old. So very old. Please call 911 and make sure my spikes are sufficiently gelled and highlighted before you leave, Gert.
Rating: W W W V