- - Thursday, June 12, 2014

The elevator pitch for “22 Jump Street” goes something like this: Did you like “21 Jump Street”?

Judging by the movie’s surprisingly strong box office returns, you probably did. So here’s another one — but bigger, louder and more expensive! Enjoy!

Thankfully, the movie makes no secret of its the-same-but-more approach, building a series of delightfully deadpan meta-sequel references that highlight the screwy logic of needlessly expansive Hollywood franchises. It’s an unnecessary sequel that constantly, and hilariously, makes fun of unnecessary sequels.

As in “21 Jump Street,” the movie follows Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), two undercover cops sent to infiltrate a school drug ring, this time in a college setting rather than a high school.

Once again, they work under the command of the surly Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, who gets a few of the movie’s best moments), and once again they rely on their evenly divided personalities — Jenko’s good-natured jock sensibility and Schmidt’s awkward nerdiness — to solve the case.

And, with a few exceptions, that case proceeds more or less like the original did, taking the duo on a tour of collegiate rituals and ending in a showdown at a major party event (this time it’s Spring Break rather than prom). Why mess with what works?

The similarities to the first movie are not only intentional, but frequently highlighted: As a senior police official played by Nick Offerman explains at the beginning, the assignment is to do “the same thing as last time. Everyone is happy.”

The biggest surprise is that the rehash shtick actually works. No, “22 Jump Street” isn’t as focused or fresh as its predecessor, which took the weird idea of reimagining a moody, late-‘80s cop show as an outrageous buddy comedy and turned it into a wildly amusing success. But it’s still charming, energetic, clever, and consistently funny.

As in the first movie, the story is designed as much like a romantic comedy as it is a buddy cop picture: The movie treats the police partnership between Schmidt and Jenko as a relationship, with much of the humor coming from cop conversations that double as relationship clichs.

The screenplay by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman generally makes the most of the movie’s inherently silly premise, although there’s clearly a lot of improvisation going on too. Part of what makes the movie work so well is that it takes a variety approach to comedy: There are physical follies, sight gags, movie-geek in-jokes, double entendres, absurdist characters and zippy one-liners.

Mostly, though, the movie succeeds on the strength of its two stars. Mr. Hill and Mr. Tatum make an adorably winning comic pair, with Mr. Tatum proving once again that he’s far better at comedy than in the lunkheaded action roles that Hollywood keeps offering him. His comic skills aren’t quite as much of a shocker this time around, but it’s nice to discover that the first film wasn’t a fluke.

Indeed, if “22 Jump Street” proves anything, it’s that with a bit of ingenuity, sequels that rehash their predecessors can work pretty well. This is one unnecessary sequel I’m glad to see.

TITLE: “22 Jump Street”

CREDITS: Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller; written by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman

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