(USA TODAY) A key ingredient to the success of 21 Jump Street was that the 2012 film never took itself too seriously, mocking its own subject matter.
Understandable, then, that the sequel will be even more self-deprecating.
"First, we openly made fun of ourselves for being lame for re-creating a TV show," says Jonah Hill, who returns for 22 Jump Street (out June 13) with co-star Channing Tatum. "Now we make fun of ourselves for doing a sequel. We're really self-aware that people make sequels — and they're never as good as the first."
Certainly, the bar was raised with that film. The original story, a comedy version of theJohnny Depp television drama about baby-faced undercover cops, rang up $139 million, more than three times its budget.
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22 Jump Street, Hill says, is "a comedy-action sequel. The action is way bigger."
But the spark remains the same.
"There are two things that went into my thinking" for the sequel, Hill says. "One is wanting to make a movie that's funnier than the first one. But the real deciding factor is, 'Do I want to spend three months with the guy?' "
That call, Hill says, wasn't difficult. He became buds with Tatum during the first movie."I came to love him as a person," Hill says. "Because who he is is what makes him funny: He's just a truthful guy."
Hill and Tatum return as hapless-but-blessed detectives Schmidt and Jenko. After cracking an undercover high school case in 21, the boys in blue move to college. One of the film's running inside jokes comes from skeptical observers, who include Nick Offerman calling the 21 reboot a lucky stroke.
But Hill, who co-wrote both films, says there's an ironic method to the madness. "I can't believe more people haven't figured this out, but the key is making fun of yourself in a smart way. People know what to expect, and they get a kick out of the fact that you don't take yourself too seriously."
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who also did the original, say the crew learned to film the actors in between takes to capture the chemistry.
"If they were tossing around a gun, we'd shoot it," Miller says. "You can create some moments in the editing room, but we were lucky enough to be pointing cameras at them as they became friends."
Even with chemistry, however, a comedy sequel can be tricky (quick, name a good one).
"I think you need to find the 'Goldilocks zone,' " Lord says. "You can't tell the same story, but this time, they're on a boat. It has to be the next chapter in the lives of characters we've come to know."
Not that Hill is averse to goofing off. The two-time Academy Award nominee says he loved bouncing off Moneyball star Brad Pitt and The Wolf of Wall Street starLeonardo DiCaprio.
"They make you better," says Hill, who was up for best supporting actor for both films. "Without them, the movie isn't as good, you aren't as good.
"But drama takes a heavier toll on you if you're living the character for three months," he says. "Some days, you just want to go to work and laugh."