22 Jump Street Confirms Lord & Miller Are Fucking Alchemists

maxresdefaultAt this point, I feel comfortable in saying that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are some of the most consistently and excitingly creative voices in film right now, and that is in spite of the fact that all of their projects have begun life as nakedly commercial endeavors. They have brought a level of intelligence and wit to all of their projects that is invigorating to say the least, and they are a reminder of why I still hold mainstream studio projects to the same high standard as anything else. 22 Jump Street is the perfect example of all of this, as they not only solve the puzzle that is a Good Comedy Sequel but also tell a sweet and emotional relationship story in the process.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: yeah, it’s hysterical, at least as much as the first one was. Obviously a decent amount of the humor derives from the mirroring or reversal of formula elements from 21 Jump Street, but that self-aware action is actually a misdirection. While everyone (including the characters) assume this will be the same case all over again, and plenty of humor is wrung out of that assumption, there is eventually a point where the arc of the characters demands that something new has to happen. And so, FOR THE GOOD OF THE STORY we end up going in a different direction, which not only prevents the film from disappearing up its own asshole but also presents plenty of unpredictable laughs along the way (a necessity for any comedy). Once again, Lord and Miller understand that any good story needs to be dictated by the characters, and that in comedies the best humor comes from the characters and not plot machinations.

Of course, while exploring the best opportunities to find humor amongst the characters, our Dynamic Filmmaking Duo (and their solid cadre of screenwriters) also end up exploring the relationship between Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) in an emotionally honest fashion. This side of the film is pretty much presented in romantic terms; Lord and Miller (not to mention Tatum and Hill) are unafraid to address the fact that hey, these guys love each other and the difficulties between them are no different than in a romantic relationship so why not use those beats and tropes? It’s probably one of the more honest depictions of platonic male love in a film, in that there’s never a single moment of gay panic, just playing on misunderstandings (a moment they essentially end up in couples therapy gets laughs, not on the fact that they aren’t gay, but the fact that they assume that the word “partner” refers to their police partnership). But overall, it’s made quite clear that the love between Jenko and Schmidt is nothing to mock or undercut with a “No Homo”, and as such it’s a relationship that you root for.

There are lots of other great elements here that give the film some variety (Wyatt Russell as Jenko’s new bro, Amber Stevens as Schmidt’s female love interest) but the best is more Ice Cube, a move that is fully earned by the story and leads to some of the biggest laughs, and not just for Ice Cube; the subplot is used to get extra moments for everyone, which to me is essential. Unlike the cameos from Rob Riggle and Dave Franco, where it’s mostly just the two of them and Tatum and Hill just reacting to them, the Ice Cube subplot fully engages the whole cast and adds some awesome new dynamics to the proceedings, something else that keeps this from feeling like a stale retread of its predecessor.

At this point, it’s safe to say I will follow Lord and Miller into the bowels of Hades no matter what project they are doing, as they have the perfect balance of creativity, craftsmanship and awareness that allows any project to flourish on its own terms. My personal suggestion: Warner Bros. should give them Shazam, let them do it as a standalone, kid-friendly adventure film with Ty Simpkins as Billy Batson, Jon Hamm as Captain Marvel, and The Rock as Black Adam… but that’s just me. Regardless of what their next film is, I’ll be there with bells on. And in the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to The Last Man on Earth (their limited series on Fox with Will Forte) with great interest.

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