Hill and Tatum in 22 Jump Street
Photo by Glenn Wilson - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Talk about a meta-movie: the guys behind 22 Jump Street have gotten away with murder, making an action comedy that simply (and brazenly) copies all the ingredients of 21 Jump Street. The joke, which stretches from the first scene to the last, is that both the filmmakers and the characters onscreen acknowledge the conceit. This smug self-awareness is funny for a while, but eventually wears thin—at least, it did for me (if not for the audience at the screening I attended).  When a film is long and only intermittently funny I lose patience with self-referential material.

Instead of infiltrating a high school, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum go to college this time, but on an identical mission: to find the source of a powerful new drug being passed around campus. As in the first picture, these misfits get more engaged in being accepted by their classmates than in following the case. Hill is attracted to beautiful student Amber Stevens, while Tatum has a bromance with football star Wyatt Russell (Kurt’s and Goldie Hawn’s son).

The stars are likable, doing what we’ve seen them do before; for most summer audiences that may be good enough. I was more enthusiastic about the supporting cast, especially fast-talking twins Keith and Kenny Lucas and deadpan Jillian Bell, as Stevens’ hostile roommate. They steal every scene they’re in—though in a film this haphazard that may be a minor compliment.

A hip attitude seems to carry some comedies a long way, and if this is a hit then the three writers who fashioned this screenplay (Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman) from Bacall and Jonah Hill’s story may have the right idea after all. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring the right energy to the proceedings. But in a world where sequels mean big business, I dread the thought of more slipshod copycat-style movies winking at us while laughing all the way to the bank.