By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actors Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back undercover as bumbling cops masquerading as college students to crack a campus drug ring in the action comedy "22 Jump Street," which pokes fun at sequels and lampoons the pair's bromance.
The plot will be familiar to fans of 2012's "21 Jump Street," an R-rated, box office hit that earned $200 million worldwide and followed the duo's slapstick antics as they returned to high school for a similar assignment.
In "22 Jump Street," which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, they are odd-couple roommates and best buddies trying to discover who is supplying college students with a powerful new drug called WHYPHY.
"I think we always thought we had a bit of handcuffs on in the first movie, being in high school and obviously the underage thing, and going to college would be a little bit more wild," said Tatum, 34, best known for "White House Down" and "Magic Mike."
The sequel puts the actors in a role reversal from the first film, in which Tatum's Jenko had difficulty fitting in and double Oscar nominee Hill ("The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Moneyball") as Schmidt was the popular guy.
This time around Tatum's hunky, dim-witted Jenko, blends in with the frat boys, becomes a football star and finds a kindred spirit in quarterback Zook, played by Wyatt Russell ("Cowboys & Aliens").
"I am the first person in my family to pretend to go to college," says an emotional Jenko.
The nerdy, needy Schmidt is left on the sidelines so he seeks solace with the artsy crowd and in the arms of student Maya, played by Amber Stevens ("The Amazing Spider-Man").
Ice Cube is back as the duo's boss, Captain Dickson, and Jillian Bell, as Maya's dour roommate, never lets Schmidt forget he looks too old to be in college.
It is packed with jokes, witty humor and action, but at its heart the film is about Jenko and Schmidt's relationship. Their divergent paths force the duo to question whether they should take a break, "investigate other people" and sow their "cop oats."
The stars and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind the hit "The Lego Movie," were aware of the pitfalls of making a sequel and tackled the issue in the film.
"We were wrestling so hard with the idea of making a sequel and how they are always worse, that we were like we should just call that out. We should just put that out there," said Hill. "And we did and people really responded to it and it allowed us to focus on making a cool movie."
The spoof strategy seems to have worked. "22 Jump Street" is expected to make $55 million in its opening weekend, nearly $20 million more than the original, and it has pleased critics.
The trade journal Variety said the film "sticks snugly to the prior film’s winning formula, mining the resultant doublings and repetitions for maximum absurdist hilarity."
(Reporting by Patrica Reaney; Editing by Marguerita Choy)