Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Buddy-cop action-comedies helped propel people like Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and Mel Gibson to the top of the box office charts. It’s a particularly magical sight to watch these dynamic performers’ insane chemistry, witty repartee and screen presence. Sadly, that’s not been the case (at least not yet) with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart’s RIDE ALONG franchise – a series I approach with more of a “ride it out and die trying” mentality than the filmmakers apparently do, as they don’t try anything with the formula. In RIDE ALONG 2, returning director Tim Story (along with returning screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi) make little to no attempt to deepen character dynamics, add any kind of ingenuity, or further the franchise in the ways it should be grown. That said, it still winds up being better than the original.
After his first mission was deemed a success, a fire was lit in Atlanta beat cop Ben Barber’s (Hart) belly. However, his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Detective James Payton (Cube) still wants to extinguish it, continually telling Ben he’s not ready for real detective work. Not only is Ben still living to annoy James, but he’s also butting heads with his bossy wedding planner, Cori (Sherri Shepherd). Why he and his fiancé Angela (Tika Sumpter) don’t just fire their paid help, who yells at the couple and sasses them constantly, is beyond me. I digress. When a local dealer is apprehended with intel linking to a larger operation – one involving Miami-based hacker A.J. (Ken Jeong) and shady shipping magnate Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt) – James makes a crazy but compassionate call. He’s gonna take Ben with him to help solve this case and, once and for all, end Ben’s desire to become a detective. However, once they get there, they realize there’s a bigger fish they need to hook with A.J.’s help. Luckily homicide Detective Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn, whose lines are delivered as rushed and flat), a.k.a. James’ love interest, is there to show up in tops that highlight her bosom help the odd couple of cops negotiate the sun-drenched Magic City.
This blossoming franchise has the makings of greatness: the genre is solid. The leads are huge box office draws. Diversity in casting is always appealing and worthy of supporting. In its fuzzy abstract, the series’ storylines could be decent if they were cleverly disguised. However, the filmmakers use every opportunity to squander that potential and the audience’s good will. Again, we’re given awkward chemistry between Cube and Hart. If Story and his story bothered to ratchet up the brothers-in-law’s relationship dichotomy a few notches, it would inherently be funnier. Repeated are predictable and rote plot beats – not just from the first film, but from the genre. Hart perpetually screams 85% of his dialogue. Showboating and peacocking will always be his thing. We’ll never get around this. Director Story’s choices and comedic sensibilities repeatedly misfire, beginning with opening credits that inexplicably interrupt the first big action set piece. Hay and Manfredi’s script posits that Ben is desperate to prove and assert himself – a concept recycled from the original, and a problem still not solved by film’s end.
Fumbled attempts at comedy – in the forms of Tyrese Gibson’s cameo at a street race (a manipulative device to grab your warm FAST AND FURIOUS feelings), re-occurring character Assface’s (Eric Goins) return and Hart’s APOCALYPSE NOW emergence from the Miami waters (a reference that mixes up two different scenes into one) – are so terribly executed that they almost elicit an “Oh, honey,” rather than pure disdain. Hay and Manfredi do earn props for trying a literal “Pope-in-the-pool” moment (burying exposition within something funny and/or strange; see Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat!) where Antonio Pope dances on top of a swimming pool. But even then, they don’t pull it off quite right.
Unexpectedly, there are a few glimmers of hope. Jeong proves to be the film’s MVP. Here, he drops his usual annoying shrill shtick – something Hart should learn to do – and replaces it with genuine comedy. The material affords him some subtleties, which is shocking given there’s never anything subtle about a Kevin Hart vehicle. He’s got great chemistry with Hart and Cube. Once again, Cube’s mere presence is the motor. He and Jeong share in one of the film’s funniest, ballsiest sequences where they defuse race relations in a hilarious post-foot-chase conversation. Plus, Bratt turns in a pretty good performance as the heavy.
When all’s said and done, it feels like we’re just along for the ride rather than feeling we’re truly a part of it.
RIDE ALONG 2 opens tomorrow.