The one problem with many comedies throughout the ages is their ability to just settle. They go with the overly obvious jokes and story choices that just suck all the fun out of the proceedings. Recent great comedies (like The Other Guys, Ted, This Is The End and anything from Edgar Wright) smartly go in unique directions that help strengthen the characters, which helps infinitely in making the jokes land in the best possible fashion. To say 22 Jump Street goes in unexpected directions is an understatement.
What's interesting about this one is how on the surface, it looks like we'll just get the first movie again, this time in a College environment. The ingenious part of this idea is how meta it is; the characters constantly make references to "expanded budgets" (which leads to a great joke about how Ice Cubes character is wearing $800 shoes you can't see) and keeping things similar to their last adventure. But it isn't just in its unique self referential spirit that 22 Jump Street manages to succeed. In fact, the best part (aside from all the jokes of course) is how well it expands on Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) as characters.
The landscape of College is rife with possibilities for new friendships and experiences, and man alive is it fun to see these two protagonists interact will all those possibilities. They manage to find new ways for the duo to branch out, to feud and to reconcile without making any of it feel gratuitous or unrealistic. After all, they may get into plenty of hilarious hijinks during their adventures, but Schmidt and Jenko do go through several very realistic scenarios that'll ring true for anyone whose had to adjust to a new environment while hoping to retain what they loved in the past. Putting the two through the wringer not only opens new possibilities in the field of characterization, but also finds plenty of opportunities for humor.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum continue to excel as a duo, each bringing their own idiosyncrasies to the table that help make several scenes of just the two interacting feel insanely riveting. I especially love Jenkos casual mixups that occur due to his low intelligence (him calling "Carte blanche" Cate Blanchett is a particular high point), while Hill brings vulnerability to Schmidt that makes him even in his clingier moments unendingly likable. Ice Cube, though, is just relentlessly hilarious, with every swear word, every order, every look of disbelief just making me crack up at every single turn. Plus, a bunch of comedians I love (like Patton Oswalt and H. Jon Benjamin) make brief but memorable turns as members of the campus faculty.
That kind of attention to smaller characters is just the kind of devotion directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are known for at this point. After making the joyous masterpeice The Lego Movie earlier this year, they go for raunchier materiel that hits similar heights in quality. The two have a knack for crafting effective scenes of both visual and wordy humor, as well as getting all the actors to go as subtle or as crazy as possible. Just look at how over the top Tatum is in one scene in the middle during a tense confrontation between Cube and Hills characters, while the subtle approach taken to Tatums mannerisms compared to Hills zany persona in the opening scene of the film. Not only is this contrast nice and humorous, but it alos feels in character for the Jenko we've come to know and love. When you're directing a comedy and you somehow can balance consistent characters and effective comedy, you know you've done your job well. Just shows how Lord and Miller know just how to get the best possible approach from each actor to make sure the jokes and story are firing on all cylinders.
Honestly, I could analyze how well Lord and Miller do directing, or how terrific the cast is, but I Know what you wanna know above all else; is it truly funny? The answer is, without hesitation, extremely. It is extremely hilarious, to the point where I was in awe of how the movie never fails to keep outdoing the joke that came before it with an even better gag. 22 Jump Street isn't just an amazing summer comedy, but a master class in comedy filmmaking.