22 Jump Street: Making of a Funny Sequel

22_jump_street_posterIn 2012, audiences responded well to one of the year’s funniest comedies, the hit film 21 Jump Street.  Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, and featuring stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street reworkd the TV series’ premise of youthful-looking cops going undercover in a high school.   The TV series was an earnest procedural, while the film became a subversive action comedy, based on the relationship between the leads.

Schmidt and Jenko as Odd Couple

“Schmidt and Jenko are an odd couple,” says Jonah 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 Channing 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.”

Like Bogart and Bacall

22_jump_street_9_hill_tatumSchmidt and Jenko became a charming 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.”

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.

Rather than approach 22 Jump Street by trying to re-create the magic 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.”

Seven Year Itch

22_jump_street_8_hill_tatum“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.”

Finding Out Who You Are

22_jump_street_6_hill_tatum“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 directors Phil Lord and 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.

22_jump_street_4_hill_tatumThough 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.”

There is 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.