In theory, 22 Jump Street – the inventively named sequel to 21 Jump Street (2012) – is a melding of high and low humour; the thinking man’s penis jokes.
Like its predecessor it follows two cops, Jonah Hill’s Schmidt and Channing Tatum’s Jenko, who pretend to be students as part of an undercover drugs investigation. This time it’s on a college campus instead of a high school but otherwise the plot is exactly the same. And so are the jokes – in fact, that is the joke. The characters are repeatedly told: “Just do exactly the same thing as last time and everyone will be happy”. It’s postmodern, yeah?
It’s two parts Pineapple Express to one part Lethal Weapon, with a sprinkling of knowing self-awareness pitched at audiences who probably really enjoyed the Scary Movie franchise. The humour veers from straight-forward slapstick (a man running into a wall is a particular favourite) to the puerile (“That’s not a grenade, that’s my ****”).
There are some genuinely funny moments, as you’d expect from The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, such as Schmidt’s quip that Jenko thinks he’s Harvey Milk after taking a “human sexuality” class. But these are the exception; it’s mostly playground humour masquerading as something more intelligent. The majority of the laughs are followed by a sideways glance to make sure the person sitting next to you didn’t notice, because chances are you’re laughing about one man touching another man on the penis, or the fact that you call two policemen “partners”, which can also refer to a gay couple.
When you laugh, you’re laughing into a soulless void, a black hole of committee joke writing that feels every bit as cheap and manipulative as a horror movie that relies on sudden noise to elicit its scares. You laugh despite your better judgement and then feel marginally worse about yourself, and about the world, because this is truly the comedy of swine and you’re rolling in the stink with the rest of the overgrown 12-year-olds.
First published in City A.M.