Does winking irony make a dumb joke funnier? Does the meta-acknowledgment that everyone's in it for the bucks give a purposefully dopey sequel more cred?
Does the undercover-cops buddy comedy 22 Jump Street take the "sub" out of gay subtext?
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, not exactly the millennials' answer to Abbott and Costello, but working a sympatico stupid-com groove, are back in the sequel to 21 Jump Street, the 2012 reboot of the late-'80s TV series that made Johnny Depp a star.
With a change of address (to the church across the street), Hill and Tatum's Schmidt and Jenko have a new assignment from their chief (Nick Offerman), who sends his bumbling badge-wearers to college to find the suppliers of a drug known as WHYPHY (WiFi - "Work Hard Yes/Play Hard Yes"). A student was killed using the stuff, and so, just as they infiltrated high school in 21 Jump Street, Schmidt and Jenko matriculate.
"Do the same thing as last time," the chief instructs them. "Everybody will be happy."
Which, of course, are marching orders for the writers and the co-directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, as well.
A walk across the quad later, Schmidt is putting lame-ish moves on coed Maya (Amber Stevens), while Jenko joins a fraternity and the football team, seriously bonding with the quarterback, Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn). Their superjock camaraderie sparks tensions between Schmidt and Jenko - bromantic jealousy, complicated by the fact that one of Zook's frat buddies is considered the prime suspect in the drug ring.
22 Jump Street's scattershot approach to comedy is rooted in the belief that for every anatomical, scatalogical, sexual, or pop-cultural reference and pun gone awry, another will stick to the wall like, um, bodily fluid. (Weirdly, the movie makes reference both to Maya Angelou, just deceased, and Tracy Morgan, just seriously injured - untimely distractions to its tone of blithe idiocy.)
And there's a running riff about Schmidt and Jenko's age. Even as they insist they're the same vintage as the rest of the freshman class, nobody's buying it.
"I'm 19," Schmidt declares.
"Nineteen minutes to pinochle," snaps Maya's disbelieving roommate, Mercedes (a very funny Jillian Bell). Whatever that means.
22 Jump Street heads to the beach for spring break, where Philly DJ Diplo supplies the beats, and where a lot of gratuitous thonging and bonging goes on. There are chases and shootouts, and Ice Cube - as the numbskull narc's captain - gets to go raging crazy in the third act when he discovers Schmidt has been . . . well, that's a spoiler, so let's leave it at that.
Not a spoiler: the dizzying end-credit teasers for a slew of mock sequels. 23 Jump Street, 27 Jump Street, 31 Jump Street, with the increasingly geriatric duo going undercover in culinary school, veterinary school, flight academy, ninja camp . . . you get the idea.
22 Jump Street **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. With Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell, Ice Cube. Distributed by Sony Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, sex, drugs, cartoon violence, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.