Jenko and Schmidt are, all at once, the most stereotypical buddy cop duo you've ever seen and unlike any you've ever seen. It is an interesting dynamic that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the first film, 21 Jump Street) have crafted here. Channing Tatum's good-hearted lunk of a man mountain in Jenko is tough to resist for just how dumb he is. Jonah Hill as Schmidt is the doughy snark-filled "smart" one who isn't all that intelligent by comparison. The first film did a good job of not only paying genuine homage to the tropes of the buddy cop film but also delivering what was, genuinely, a really funny film. Here the meta-humor quotient is ratcheted up about ten thousand times past its predecessor and the results are far better than I could have hoped for.
The meta-humor being pumped up to the maximum here also allows for an analysis of the undercurrent of homoerotic tension that exists between all great buddy cop duos. Schmidt and Jenko are partners in justice, sure, but also brothers united by a common cause. Every single macho cliché you can imagine is sent up yet also indulged to the fullest. All that overly macho energy that might just be a little "too manly" is allowed to see the full light of day and flex for all its worth here. The relationship between the two is really the crux of the film and that is what, ultimately, makes it work. It aspires to be something akin to Hot Fuzz though it never quite reaches those heights.
This time around the dynamic duo are sent off to college, with a bigger budget behind them this time thanks to Cpt. Dickson (Ice Cube) and his push to stop a new drug, Wy-Fy, from making it out of Metro City. So, the boys are set up in a dorm room and start attending classes to see if they can root out the dealer. Jenko even remarks upon stepping onto campus that he is the "first in his family to pretend to go to college." A schism forms not long after as Jenko goes in deep cover inside a frat and even joins the football team while Schmidt plays the odd man out this time. If you've seen the first film then, well, this is nothing new. The roles may be flipped around, sure, but this is all familiar territory. There is no hesitance to lampoon that fact either as our two heroes and, well, nearly everyone else around them make sure to make note of it. The approach Lord and Miller take with the direction of the film, scripted by Michael Bacall, is not all that different from the Lego Movie actually. It doesn't necessarily slip outside the status quo while at the same time questioning it with every fiber of its being. The Lego Movie was a message of anti-consumerism in hyper-drive yet it also served it as well. Heck the song "Everything is Awesome" is a prime example of one reason why the film worked so well.
Lord and Miller don't do much to redefine the buddy cop film here but they do somehow tread some new ground in truly examining the underpinnings of the camaraderie and brotherhood that is built upon working so close to each for so long. One could even remark that it borders on homophobia yet it never strays there very often (a few jokes do definitely go there though) and, in fact, is almost anti-homophobic in a very "meta" way. This feels like the sort of buddy cop movie that, maybe, Abed from Community might write. That, for me, is a very good thing.
The jokes aren't always knockout funny but when they work boy do they work. Tatum and Hill are such a compelling onscreen pairing that it is hard to not forgive the film for its few shortcomings. Honestly this review isn't all that necessary even as the film pretty much critiques itself as you're watching it. The duo's charisma and chemistry together along with Ice Cube being allowed to be Ice Cube, though, make for a damn good time.