In 2012, audiences around the world sparked to one of the year’s funniest comedies with the hit film 21 Jump Street. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and featuring terrific chemistry between stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street took the classic television series’ premise of youthful-looking cops going undercover in a high school and made it all its own. Where the series was an earnest procedural, the film became a subversion of action comedies, with the relationship between the leads taking center stage.
“Schmidt and Jenko are an odd couple,” says Hill. “They got together because they’re partners, but they really worked well together because they brought different things to the table.”
That setup proved ripe for comedy — and for Tatum to show off remarkable and unexpected comedy chops. “I’d never been in a comedy before,” says Tatum. “I learned to trust the process — I mean, Jonah is so good, he can throw out four or five different ways of saying a line, one right after another. I trust him, and Chris and Phil
I’m among friends. If they’re laughing, you know it’s funny.”
As a result, Schmidt and Jenko became an unforgettable screen couple. “They’re like Bogart and Bacall,” says Phil Lord, who returns to co-direct the film with Christopher Miller, who adds, “They had this amazing natural chemistry. They’re very different, but they really respect and admire each other. They make a great yin-yang pair.”
Now, in 22 Jump Street, the filmmakers take the relationship to the next level. If the first film was about forming a relationship, the new film is about what it takes to make a relationship last.
That idea dovetails nicely with the fact that the film is a sequel. Rather than approach 22 Jump Street by trying to re-create the magic — a re-tread of what came before — the filmmakers sought ways to keep it fresh … which is, of course, what we all have to do with our relationships. “The thing that struck us about movie sequels is that, in a way, they’re like the second part of a relationship,” says Lord. “In a relationship, you can try to recreate the past, but it’s never going to be the same; you’ve got to create new and different experiences that are just as great.”
“We came up with the idea of the ‘seven year itch,’” says producer Neal H. Moritz. “In the first film, they didn’t like each other, but came to be great friends and partners; now, their relationship has become complacent — like a marriage. That became the spine of our story.”
“So, that’s how we approached the movie,” says Miller, picking up the thought. “The running gag is that the plot is just like the last one — but in trying to do the same thing again, it doesn’t work, and Schmidt and Jenko have to find something new.”
With that in mind, it also made sense to the filmmakers that 22 Jump Street would be set in a college. “We got inspired by the idea that Jenko and Schmidt are each other’s ‘hometown honey’ – but they go to college, and the world is opened up to them,” says
Lord. “They experience new things and start to wonder whether they’re with the right person or not. For those of us who went to college and had friends who went through that, it seemed honest and true.”
“College is about finding out who you are,” says Hill, who also produces the film with Moritz and Tatum. “For example, Schmidt has really defined himself by this partnership with Jenko. In college, he’s struggling to know who he is.”
Jenko, meanwhile, has found somebody with a few more of his shared interests. When their investigation leads them to look into the football team, Jenko finds a kindred spirit in Zook, the team’s quarterback, played by Wyatt Russell. Before long, the bromance that seemed made in heaven is in trouble. “Zook is kind of Jenko’s man-crush,” says Tatum. “There are jealousy issues immediately – and those issues get in the way of the case that Schmidt and Jenko are supposed to be working. They end up investigating separately.”
Returning to the helm are Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. “The first movie was so innately theirs; it was distinctively Chris and Phil,” says Tatum. “The biggest thing for me was that the tone was different — it had a refreshing feel and a tone I’d never seen in a movie before. That’s why I was so happy that they wanted to come back and join us for the sequel — I knew they’d make the movie something special.”
Lord and Miller directed the film while simultaneously working on The Lego Movie, which has since become a worldwide hit. With their success on 21 Jump Street and their first film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Lord and Miller are one of the most important directorial voices in today’s film comedy genre.
Though it was clear from the beginning that making 22 Jump Street feel as fresh and original as the franchise’s first entry would be a challenge, it was just the kind of challenge that appealed to them. In fact, it’s easy to forget that 21 Jump Street was no slam dunk until Lord and Miller showed how it could be done. “It seems like if there’s a project that’s really hard and there’s only one way to pull it off, that’s the kind of project we want to do,” says Lord.
“Phil and Chris are two of the kindest, nicest, hardworking guys. They really know how to instill heart into their movies,” says Moritz. “Even in a completely silly comedy scene, they know how to put heart into it and track those relationships from the beginning of the film to the end and make sure that is the center of the story.”
For their part, Lord and Miller were not only excited by the chance to explore the themes of the relationship, but to play with the entire idea of making an action-comedy sequel.
“What’s fun about doing this kind of a movie is you get to subvert the genre,” says Lord.
“You go see a Neal Moritz movie, and you know it’s going to have a cool car chase — but we’ve got Schmidt behind the wheel and he doesn’t know how to drive.”
“Other movies can do the crazy action stuff better than we can. We have to have a strong comic idea that runs through it,” says Miller. “We have to do something that has a funny idea, but also looks as badass as possible.”
For example: a huge chase scene through the madness of Spring Break. “That seemed really funny to us – to stage a chase scene amidst the complication of a bunch of drunken, insane college students getting wasted and flashing everybody,” says Lord.