June 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: No reason '22 Jump Street' should work - but it does

Jonah Hill, left, Ice Cube and Channing Tatum star in the comedic buddy movie remake '22 Jump Street.' (Glen Wilson / Sony)

The story is essentially the same as the original movie, and the main characters haven’t changed one iota.

So why doesn’t “22 Jump Street” come off as a tired rehash in the manner of “The Hangover Part II”?

Well, to be honest, it does a little bit. It certainly falls under the “not as funny as the first one but still pretty darn funny” umbrella. But the pretty darn funny stuff is indeed pretty darn funny.

A lot of credit has to go to stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum for their sheer force of personality. With their seemingly oblivious enthusiasm they make you like this stuff, even though you’ve seen it all before.

It also helps that the script itself continually acknowledges its own faults and limitations, even commenting on the actors’ careers and the folly of sequels. This is dumb comedy, but it’s meta-dumb comedy, and it’s hard not to laugh.

So witness the return of Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), the high school nerd and stud who helped each other through the police academy, became bike cops, and then went undercover at a high school to bust a drug ring in “21 Jump Street.”

Now it’s time for “22 Jump Street” (the command office moved across the block), in which Schmidt and Jenko go undercover to bust a drug ring at — where else? — a college.

Here’s what you’d expect: dorms, fraternities, wild parties, football and spring break.

Here’s what you get: dorms, fraternities, wild parties, football and spring break.

Jenko immediately becomes the new cool kid on campus, joining a fraternity and becoming a big football star alongside his seeming clone, Zook (Wyatt Russell). Schmidt, meanwhile, drifts toward the more artsy crowd, where he hooks up with the lovely Maya (Amber Stevens), a girl whose connections will eventually bring Schmidt misery.

The two partners go through a number of bromance breakup scenes as their interests diverge. But you know they’ll pull it back together in time for spring break, where they’re on the hunt for a drug kingpin called the Ghost (Peter Stormare).

A movie like this can always use a secret weapon, and it scored a strong one with Jillian Bell (“Workaholics”), who plays Mercedes, Maya’s relentlessly rude roommate who eventually jumps to another level entirely. In many ways her rapid-fire deadpan delivery resembles Hill’s when he’s in that mode, but when she leaps into physical stuff, the film gets a huge boost. Somebody put this woman in more movies.

Look, odd buddy comedies date back to Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello and vaudeville. College farces have been around for decades. Sequels abound. And in the modern era, there is no lack of comic movies that like to look down ironically at themselves.

So there’s no real reason “22 Jump Street” should work. Yet it does. Credit directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”), credit the stars’ seemingly inexhaustible capacity for spoofing themselves, credit the summer blockbuster deluge for making a purposely silly action movie seem like a relief. But mostly just sit back and laugh.

'22 Jump Street'

GRADE: B-

Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence

Running time: 112 minutes

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