Movie review: Return to “22 Jump Street”

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From the June 12, 2014 edition

If a comedic reboot of the late ’80s Fox drama featuring undercover cops posing as high school students seemed like a bad idea, well, a Hollywood studio didn’t think so.

But the 2013 comedy was one of the better surprises of last year, thanks to a smartly self-aware script and the unexpectedly delightful comedic chemistry of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Seriously, Tatum was so funny Hill seemed like the straight man at times.

Both are back with the equally self-aware sequel “22 Jump Street.” As the first movie made fun of both Hollywood’s tendency to recycle and the absurdity of grown-ass men passing themselves off as high-schoolers, this one also thumbs its nose at sequels. As a police chief played by Nick Offerman says, “It’s always worse the second time around.”

This time, officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are going undercover at a local college to investigate a drug ring peddling a new designer drug that’s part Adderall, part Ecstasy. First you study, then you trip balls, all with one pill.

Their partnership/bromance hits some rocky terrain when Jenko meets Zook (Wyatt Russell), the quarterback of the football team. Jenko and Zook form an instant bro-bond, which leaves Schmidt feeling like a third wheel.

I think “22 Jump Street” is even self-aware enough to know how played out the concept of “bromance” is, which is part of what makes it so funny. And it is as funny as the original, maybe even more.

With pretty much the same writing-directing team returning, it’s not really a surprise that the sequel works — especially with the added parody potential of sequels themselves (stick around for the credits and see).

Hill is pretty much, as noted by a character in the movie who realizes he doesn’t belong in college, “like a 30-year-old eighth-grader,” and he’s perfect for the material.

But it’s Tatum again who proves to be the funniest person on-screen, nailing the sweetly dumb act (“I’m the first person in my family to pretend to go to college.”)

Even when the comedy flirts with offensive, it’s handled well — even the sticky proposition of an female-male fistfight.

Two “Jump Street” comedies is probably enough — though if this hits again, you know there will be more — but this sequel may even be a tick ahead of its predecessor.