(Phil Lord, Chris Miller, 2014)
Directors Lord and Miller's stock in trade is the hyperactive meta-fictional comedy, and here, seemingly emboldened by the success of 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, they push that as far as it can go while remaining (just about) true to the action-comedy genre.
The self-referential story follows Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) as they begin another case, this time posing as College Freshmen, investigating the source of a new drug called WhyFy on a Californian campus. Jokes about the lameness of sequels, the pointless budgetary increases and the tweaking of formula inevitably follow, but the film nimbly allows all that to co-exist with a nice emotional narrative about the pairs relationship unravelling (explicitly compared to the break-up of a long-term couple), slapstick, some brilliant pop cultural references (the Benjamin Hill School of Film Studies flashes by during a chase scene) and loads of gags about both the college movie sub-genre and college age kids in general.
All that and there are action scenes too.
Jenko has never been to College and he finds himself the perfect specimen to become a frat-boy football player, enjoying a beautifully-played homo-erotic relationship with the College Quarterback while also embracing his Human Sexuality course, while Schmidt falls in with an artier crowd, performing slam poetry and being used by a girl (the repeated "walk of shame" gag works because of Hill's sour little mouth).
Ice Cube and his outraged scowl return and this time he is given much more to do; destroying a buffet being a particular highlight.
The oddity here is how hard it is to know just what to take seriously. When the film shifts to Mexico for a Spring Break-set climax, the establishing shots of high rise hotels and crashing breakers could come straight from a Michael Bay movie, and the temptation is to see even that as Miller & Lord teasing the industry in which they are thriving. They mock and skit at every opportunity, undercutting and satirising merrily, making the movie an almost exhilarating riot.
And yet, some of the best gags are the simplest - Jenko's use of the term "Cate Blanchett" is a joke for the ages. Just when you think it is over comes the closing credits, a brilliant in-joke on movie franchises which ends this on a perfect note.