22 Jump Street is an extended joke about the state of Hollywood.
Following a bust gone wrong, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) informs the hapless crime-fighting duo of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) that the higher ups have decided that their new gig—monitoring online university lectures for coded signals—isn’t working. You’ll remember that they had been told they were "going to college" at the end of 21 Jump Street—and if you don’t, no worries, because there’s a TV-style recap at the beginning of this film.
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The powers that be have decided the duo needs to do exactly what we have seen them do previously: pretend to be students and go to class in order to track down the distributer of a dangerous new drug killing kids.
It’s just that they’ll be going to college this time.
Jenko suggests they could do something slightly different, like join the Secret Service and protect the White House. (Get it?). Nope, the college thing, Hardy replies.
The audience is then treated to a parade of sequences in which we learn that everything is just like before, only bigger and better! The budget for the Jump Street strike force has been massively increased. (Get it?) They’ve got a new headquarters, filled with fancy stuff and modern-looking high tech offices. Indeed, one of our heroes says that the all-glass office of their commanding officer, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), "looks like a giant cube of ice."
Get it? Please tell me you get it. They’re joking about Hollywood! And how it’s totally unoriginal! And how actors portray the characters in this film! And how some of those actors have played other roles in other movies!
The movie is an extremely self-aware parody. You’d likely die from alcohol poisoning if you crafted a drinking game that forced you to take a shot every time 22 Jump Street made a reference to another film or joked that it itself is a film. And it works, occasionally.
More often, however, 22 Jump Street comes across as a Friedberg and Seltzer production with better acting and a bigger budget. The mere fact that the filmmakers are aware that they’re playing the role of a wholly unoriginal cog in the corporate machine does not really excuse their unoriginality.
This is not to say that 22 Jump Street is unfunny. It is often quite funny. "Angry Ice Cube" is so much more entertaining than "Family Man Ice Cube," but "Angry Family Man Ice Cube Smashing Things" is the best Ice Cube of all. Tatum and Hill’s odd couple routine continues to entertain. The contrast of Tatum parkouring down a stairwell’s handrails as Hill huffs and puffs his way down the steps plays like a hypermodern take on the thin guy/fat guy comedy teams of years gone by.
It’s just too bad they couldn’t have put these talents to slightly weightier work.