22 Jump Street (2014) – Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare, Rob Riggle, Amber Stevens, and Dave Franco.
Essentially, buddy movies are about the difficulties between people of the same sex to express their emotions for one another. They are the origin of the bromance genre. The existence of bromance, as a concept, is simply taking the concept of the buddy movie and bringing into the social arena. Like most buddy movies, the “bromance” seeks to coat the actual emotion being expressed beneath a veneer of jokes, most typically tied to a hyper-masculinity, and an undercurrent of drama, usually tied to a fear of failing to meet that hyper-masculine standard.
What makes 22 JUMP STREET (like it’s predecessor, 21 JUMP STREET, a very funny movie) unique is how the film knowingly and cleverly engages these ideas throughout the movie. Every part of their relationship – and thus, every part of the movie – is about their friendship. The case exists to exacerbate and pokes holes in that friendship. Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) have less of a problem in expressing their emotions as they do in coping with the changing nature of their emotional connection. As a buddy movie, we’ve still got the Odd Couple going undercover to solve a crime. As a bromance, we’ve got the romantic couple dealing with the first conflict in their relationship. They’ve hooked up, moved in, and are going through the, “Oh, you leave your toothbrush on the sink? I don’t know if I can handle that” phase of the relationship.
Cleverly, the filmmakers (which includes directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who are also involved in running the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie franchises) treat this like a romance. When Schmidt and Jenko break-up, it’s filmed just like a break-up scene in an actual romance; it’s funny, but it’s funny because we know and they know that it’s a break-up scene, but they insistently find language to use that masks the romance in favor of the buddy. They talk about “investigating separately,” a metaphor for breaking up, and everyone is in on it. When they come back together at the end of the film and reform their bond (which happens after Jenko has fondled Schmidt’s junk while looking for a hand grenade the latter has stashed in his pants), they talk about how this – about how them being together – is what they’ve always wanted. Jenko’s secondary bromance partner (a football player who we are repeatedly told is just like Jenko) even says, “This is who he belongs with” (even though he thinks the Schmidt and Jenko are brothers) and Schmidt’s quasi-girlfriend, Maya (the super hot Amber Stevens), never re-enters the film to reconcile with him romantically.
The filmmakers also know that you know almost everything that’s going to happen and they have fun with it. When Schmidt hooks up with Maya and then returns to the new 22 Jump Street precinct (in a church across the street from the 21 Jump Street church) to brag about it and high fives Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), you know damn well Maya is going to end up being his daughter. When this easy-to-see revelation comes to pass, we’re treated to a very funny and uncomfortable parents weekend dinner in which Dickson puts the death glare on Schmidt, and then proceeds to throw the equivalent of a tough guy hissy fit at the buffet table. This is followed up by an even funnier routine at the precinct in which Jenko goes off on how hilarious it is that Schmidt fucked Dickson’s daughter and that Dickson congratulated him on it.
Maya and Schmidt spend two nights together – the first time having sex and the second time just talking all night – and on both morning afters they are surprised to find Maya’s roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), sitting on her bed watching them. The idea is that they didn’t even notice she was there all along, which the film then mirrors when it reveals Mercedes as the drug dealer they’ve been trying to identify for the entire movie.
Jillian Bell is hilarious throughout the movie. On the morning afters, she busts on Schmidt’s age, never believing he’s actually only nineteen, and later, her and Schmidt engage in a fist fight where she alternates between mocking his manhood and trying to make out with him.
The film is smartly made all over the place, too.
There’s an entire running meta-commentary on sequels. Schmidt and Jenko want to do something new, but Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) insists, “You’re going to do the same thing as last time,” and the film continually reinforces the “just like last time” commentary from start to finish. The end credits sequence does an extended riff on JUMP STREET sequels, spinning out countless iterations of Schmidt and Jenko going undercover (the best: JUMP STREET GENERATIONS where our duo teams up with Richard Grieco and Dustin Nguyen), which follows up a joke from early in the film when Schmidt and Jenko talk about how weird it is the Koreans bought back 21 Jump Street and that they were lucky to find another abandoned church right across the street. “We’ll probably be back on this side of the street next year,” Jenko says as the camera reveals a sign reading, “23 Jump Street Condominiums” in front of a construction site.
Or when, in one of the film’s numerous call backs to other films, Jenko references the Lethal Weapon franchise when he says, “We’re too old for this shit.” Schmidt’s response: “We were always too old for this shit,” a wonderful self-referential mocking of the JUMP STREET franchise.
Look, there are plenty of dumb and sophomoric jokes in 22 JUMP STREET, but they’re smartly crafted and arranged. This isn’t a comedy where there’s a loose script and people show up and do a million takes and then they pick the funniest bit in the editing suite and just stitch everything together. There’s a reason for almost everything to be included here, and so even if they do a million takes and pick the funniest in post-production, the content of the jokes builds a stronger narrative by reinforcing the film’s main themes.
The topic of what makes a smart script has come up at the Anxiety plenty of times. I think most critics are absolute fucking idiots when it comes to actual critiques of the intelligence of a movie’s script because all they care to look at is the surface of something. There’s more explosions or jokes than pathos, so that means it’s a dumb script.
There is a difference between a movie that is stupid and one that acts stupid. 22 JUMP STREET acts stupid, but it isn’t a dumb movie.
The strongest appeal of the film is the buddies at the center of things. Hill and Tatum are great together, perfectly balancing out the other to both feed off one another and support each other. At this point, I think Tatum is unquestionably the most comfortable movie star we’ve got. Maybe in ten years he’ll be uncomfortable with fame and turn to making quasi-Oscar-worthy films where the MESSAGE becomes more important than the fun, but right now, he’s so at ease on screen there doesn’t appear to be any ego about his performance or any artificial injection of ThisIsImportantItis cough Monuments Men cough. Instead, when Jenko first admits to his own homophobic actions in high school and then later roughs up a criminal for using that same language, it never comes across as preachy.
Part of this is thank to Hill. When Jenko is going off on the bad guy for his word choice, Schmidt apologizes to the bad guy, blaming Jenko’s reaction on his having taken one Sex Ed class.
It’s this give and take that makes the JUMP STREET franchise. As actors, both Hill and Tatum are able to do what’s best for the scene, whether that sees them in the lead or as a complementary part. That technique allows 22 JUMP STREET to produce something even greater than the sum of its parts.
Just like all great romances.