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Review: 22 Jump Street 

***

There really wasn't any reason to expect good things from 2012's 21 Jump Street, since such TV-to-film adaptations as Starsky & Hutch, I Spy and Dark Shadows had suggested that this wholesale mining of boob-tube nostalgia clearly had its limitations. Yet the big-screen takeoff of the TV show that had placed Johnny Depp on the map proved to be a resounding success, self-aware in its humor yet never smug or suffocating in its execution.

Similarly, there really wasn't any reason to expect good things from 22 Jump Street, since any sequel would doubtless just be a repeat of what had gone on before. Well, yes and no. 22 Jump Street does follow the pattern of its predecessor, but the film's four writers (including co-star Jonah Hill) work overtime to ensure that the majority of the gags are fresh and that the recycled ones are given enough of an extra spin to make audiences laugh all over again. And, boy, do they laugh ... long and loud.

Hill and Channing Tatum return as undercover cops Schmidt and Jenko, only now they're too old to successfully pass themselves off as high school students as they search for the makers of a deadly drug that's causing kids to OD. The solution? They must successfully pass themselves off as college students as they search for the makers of a deadly drug that's causing kids to OD.

It sounds like Lazy Screenwriting 101, and the potential for the self-referential humor to fall drastically flat is huge (see Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West as proof positive).

Yet from the start, with a "Previously on 21 Jump Street" tease, Hill and his co-writers find ways to perk up the predictable. For instance, 22 Jump Street isn't just the name of the movie; it's also the new address that serves as the headquarters for the unit operating under the grouchy Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, the first picture's stealth weapon of wit, is just as hilarious here). "Good thing there's an abandoned Vietnamese church just across the street," notes Dickson as they pass by the abandoned Korean church - now sold - that they previously had used as HQ.

The campus setting also lends itself to some inspired bits. The Lucas Brothers, aka stand-up comedians Kenny and Keith, quietly steal scenes as pothead siblings who finish each other's sentences, while former Saturday Night Live scribe Jillian Bell is drolly amusing as a huffy student constantly ragging on the fact that Schmidt is clearly older than the average college kid. As Maya, a classmate who catches Schmidt's eye, Amber Stevens has to play it straighter than her co-stars, but her participation in the proceedings eventually leads directly to a couple of the film's largest laughs.

The merriment and goodwill manage to extend all the way to the epilogue; I won't spoil the surprise (or the hysterical cameo buried therein) since it's best to view this sustained stretch of comic brilliance with virgin eyes, so let's just say that the prospect of a 23 Jump Street seems more like a favor than a threat.

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