Previously on 21 Jump Street, undercover cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) infiltrated a drugs ring in a high school, against the odds convincing almost everyone that they really were teenagers and not actually pushing thirty. That escapade was a success, and they became firm friends so naturally when their Chief (Nick Offerman) tells them of their next assignment he asks - nay, orders - them to do exactly the same thing again, only this time at a college where there is another drugs ring pushing a new kind of high, one which boosts brain power for a few hours then lands the user tripping for the following few hours until they come down. If they come down: one student has died and that cannot happen again...
That previous film took the Starsky & Hutch approach by adopting a spoofy, almost postmodern tone to a celebrated cop show, yet while the seventies revival was middling at best, somehow directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller turned unpromising material into box office gold, in collaboration with the Michael Bacall script which made it clear they were well aware of how ridiculous the Johnny Depp-starring original of the eighties was, and capitalising on that. No matter how camp Starsky & Hutch may seem in retrospect to certain quarters, there were a lot of viewers who took it very seriously, yet 21 Jump Street was always a kind of joke if you weren't an actual teenager at the time.
And even then you may have had your doubts, but producer Stephen J. Cannell had his cake and ate it too by bringing these movies to the big screen as vehicles for Jonah Hill (who had a hand in the writing) and Channing Tatum as more or less a dumb and dumber pair of cops who wise up or to put it another way, grow up. That was a theme in the sequel, that it was absurd to try and hang onto your first flush of youth when there were benefits in maturity, which seemed a bit rich from a franchise trading on nostalgia and a comedic reaction to reliving your earlier years, but it wasn't only Cannell chomping that gateau. They even had the Chief setting out the conceit from practically the first scene (aside from an action sequence with baddie Peter Stormare to grab the attention) in case anyone in the audience was unfamiliar with the rules of modern sequels.
Surely there couldn't have been many of those by this stage in the blockbuster landscape which relied all too heavily on familiarity, not wishing to give us a nasty surprise by presenting something new, but directors Lord and Miller had quickly established themselves as experts in smuggling in precisely that under the noses of the viewers. Their biggest success in 2014 was The Lego Movie, though this did very well too, even if there was a sense this was an also-ran no matter how much money it took at the box office, and indeed on watching it for at least the first three quarters this did feel as if the joke had become rather laboured, in spite of a number of genuinely funny gags and the themes nicely established while not getting in the way of the humour, more complementing them instead.
At the college, Schmidt and Jenko find their formerly rock solid relationship sorely tested, not least because just about everyone notes they're undercover cops from their first appearance on the campus. So they pair off elsewhere, Schmidt with an attractive student pal of the deceased, Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko with a dumb jock who comes across as a better match to his personality than Schmidt, Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell and exhibiting similar charm). We know that they will get back together again before the end credits (and what end credits they are!), but the point that you never step twice in the same river, even in a slavishly rendered sequel, was well put along with the realisation for them that they're not getting any younger, conveyed in a starmaking turn by Jillian Bell as Maya's sarky roommate who takes every opportunity to highlight Schmidt's advancing years. Ending in a wild, extended chase that overdoes the sports car product placement but did feature a hilarious kiss fight, 22 Jump Street took its time but struck gold eventually. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh.