One of the biggest selling points of 2012's 21 Jump Street turned out to be its seemingly unscripted lunacy, the way it put Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in police-shorts outfits and let them riff on their characters' mutual ineptitude. As undercover cops who pose as teenagers to root out drug dealers, Tatum and Hill's Jenko and Schmidt made an unlikely but weirdly charming team, and their Mutt-and-Jeff bickering eventually mellowed into a friendship as comfy as a rumpled T-shirt.
Now there's a sequel, named, with brilliant illogic, 22 Jump Street, but the magic has dimmed a bit. This time Jenko and Schmidt have been assigned to a local college, where it's their duty to find and arrest the dealer who's spreading a powerful drug. Unfortunately, the person responsible may be Jenko's new best friend, a football player named Zook (Wyatt Russell).
Schmidt's feelings are deeply hurt by Jenko's preoccupation with his new buddy, though he tries not to show it. Jenko and Schmidt drift apart; the movie makes numerous homoerotic references to this fading friendship, but only in a "Totally yankin' your chain, bro!" way. It's there that 22 Jump Street wobbles off the rails. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller pack the movie with loosey-goosey dynamite, jokes that revel in their own puerility, accompanied by a knowing wink. But they go overboard on the nudge-nudge gay jokes. It's not that 22 Jump Street is blatantly homophobic. Perhaps Lord and Miller are misfiring in their attempts to explore the complexities of friendships between men. But whatever they're trying to say remains indistinct and noncommittal, even as they seem a little too obsessed with it.