22 Jump Street and The Rover: Top Drawer Laughs, Bottom-Shelf Dystopia

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill score again, Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson…don't.


Columbia Pictures

Very cute. 22 Jump Street isn't just an improbable sequel to the smash hit 21 Jump Street of two years ago – it's virtually the same damn story. Oh, there are some piffling changes. This time, instead of being sent back to high school to bust a student drug ring, undercover cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) have graduated to busting a college drug ring. ("I'm the first person in my family to pretend to go to college," says the lovably dense Jenko.) Otherwise, though, we're in familiar territory here.

Part of the movie's pleasure is its self-referentiality. Schmidt and Jenko have been given this very similar second assignment because their first exploit was so successful that higher-ups have allotted larger resources for another go-round – which is of course the bottom-line logic of just about every Hollywood sequel that's ever cluttered the multiplexes. But the picture is more than a wink-fest. It's often blazingly funny. Part of the credit for this must be given to scripters Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel, and to returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who'll soon be returning to their fledgling Lego Movie franchise).

But the indispensable heart of the enterprise continues to be the unlikely teaming of Hill and Tatum. They're so perfectly matched that it's tempting to compare them to famous comedy duos of the past – Laurel and Hardy, say, or Abbott and Costello. But where the old two-man template called for one partner to be a goofy simpleton and the other basically a straight man, Hill and Tatum can each take on both of those roles, expanding the possibility (and almost achieving the actuality) of nonstop laughs.

The movie begins with Schmidt and Jenko screwing up an unrelated undercover assignment, attempting to pose as Mexican drug thugs in order to infiltrate a gang of actual Mexican drug thugs. This goes about as well as you'd expect, and soon they're fleeing down the freeway atop a speeding truck (an action scene that's very funny in itself). Then their boss, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), assigns them to enroll in the local college and root out the source of a mind scrambling drug called WHYPHY, which has already claimed the life of a student named Cynthia.

Setting up shop as roommates, the boys get right to work. But their bond is soon tested. Hunky Jenko – a guy so unsuited to intellectual pursuits that his eyes nearly cross every time he attempts to have a thought – is more naturally drawn to a crew of fratboy jocks headed by a fellow named Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell). Meanwhile, Schmidt, much less naturally, manages to score with a pretty art student named Maya (Amber Stevens), much to the acidulous disdain of her roommate, Mercedes (a terrifically sour Jillian Bell). Soon, Jenko has become a football hero and Schmidt is socializing with the art crowd (they all drink merlot). But Schmidt resents Jenko's turning his back on their long relationship, and before long his pouting drives Jenko to suggest they shift to "an open investigation." (Traditional buddy-cop bromance is one of the movie's central targets.)

There's no need to detail all the funny stuff here. We get some passing hilarity in a classroom encounter between the dull-witted Jenko and a very quick-witted history professor (played by Patton Oswalt, uncredited). And Schmidt has a showpiece moment at a student poetry slam, where he's encouraged to get up onstage and draws cheers with some impromptu lines of his own ("Jesus died for our Cynthias!"). I'm not sure it was necessary to take the boys down to Mexico for a spring-break wrapup (it makes the movie a little too long), but the picture ends on a triumphant note: a brilliant montage of previews for future Jump Street sequels – dozens of them. But 22 Jump Street is so skillfully wrought, and Hill and Tatum so nuttily attuned, you have to hope that no one involved will be moved to pursue an endless series of further installments. Really, this one should do it.

The Rover


The Rover is like the Mad Max movies, in a faint way, but without the wild style, the great pulpy characters and the hair raising stunts. Without the fun, in other words.

The story is set in a dystopian Australia, ten years after an economic collapse caused, as the film's production notes put it, by "the rapacious capacity for underregulated Western economies to destroy themselves." Check.

The country is part of a new Third World, reduced to its mineral resources, with desperate outlanders pouring in to work in the mines or, alternatively, just prey on the jumpy populace. A greasy-haired ex-soldier named Eric (Guy Pearce), who has lost his farm and everything else but his car, roams the dust-choked Outback roads nursing a secret sorrow. While he's making a pit stop at a dismal roadside store, a trio of armed robbers, fleeing a botched heist, ditch their pickup outside and hijack Eric's wheels. Why they should have done this is unclear, since their truck still works fine. Eric climbs into it and sets off in pursuit. It's a poky chase, and when he finally confronts the outlaws, they unsurprisingly club him over the head and take off again.

Eric doesn't express much, but now he's angry. We realize this after he buys a gun from a dwarf and then shoots him with it. Soon Eric encounters a wounded simpleton named Rey (Robert Pattinson), whose brother Henry (Scoot McNairy) is one of vanished gunmen. Rey got shot during the robbery-gone-wrong and Henry abandoned him. Eric takes Rey to a country doctor, who patches him up. She won't take money for her services, though. "I've got along pretty good living without money," she sniffs. Eric notices the doctor has an awful lot of dogs around. She says they were left with her by owners who never returned: "I guess they've gone looking for money."

It's a relief to escape this woman, even in a hail of bullets. (Some other bad guys are seeking her company.) Eric and Rey move along. There's a stopover at a ratty motel (with surprisingly clean sheets) and a scene at a gas station whose owner only accepts U.S. dollars (making us wonder how extensive this economic collapse really is). Rey tells Eric he knows where to find Henry, and the rest of the movie consists of watching the two of them do so.

Australian director David Michôd's first feature, the 2010 Animal Kingdom, was a tough little crime-family item that seemed to signal the arrival of a new genre talent. Why he's followed up that film with this one is a puzzlement. He seems to feel that any attempt to draw viewers into the movie – to entertain them – would be crass pandering. His aversion to imposing a visual style on the film, much of which seems to have been shot on abandoned construction sites, is an example of pointless austerity; and the wildly uneven score – ranging from metallic clinks and clanks to an out-of-the-blue rap track to what sounds like industrial elephant torture – is consistently irritating. Despite occasional bursts of violence, the movie's pace is mopey and uninvolving. And Pearce's character is so thin that the actor is sometimes reduced to little more than looking thoughtful. As for the anti-charismatic Pattinson, his portrayal of the twitchy dim bulb Rey appears to be an attempted channeling of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master – which only puts us in mind of a more compelling actor.

It's hard to imagine this movie finding much of an audience, offering, as it does, little more than successive temptations to walk out of it.