Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Movie Review: 'Ride Along 2'

If you watched Ride Along, 2014’s buddy cop comedy starring the unlikely duo of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, and your first thought was, “I can’t wait for the sequel,” you’re in luck, because Ride Along 2 is here. While the first film was modestly entertaining, if entirely expected, the follow up is listless retread with a few new wrinkles, like Ken Jeong and Olivia Munn, thrown in to little effect.

This time around, Ben Barber (Hart), now a probationary police officer fresh out of the academy, is still marrying the sister of badass, plays-by-his-own-rules detective James Payton (Ice Cube). Ben is still a screw up who desperately wants to be a detective and to prove his worth to his future brother-in-law, and, again, he gets his chance when James has to travel from Atlanta to Miami to track down a hacker, AJ (Jeong), and the two find themselves embroiled in a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt), who everyone thinks is a squeaky clean businessman.

Ride Along 2 may be dappled with Miami sun and sex appeal—there are lots of slow motion bikini shots that could have been lifted from the cutting room floor of a Fast & Furious movie—and there may be a few more players, but it’s essentially the same movie we saw before, which was already formulaic to a fault. Here, any heart or novelty has gone out of the film, and the script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi plays like something spit out by an automatic story generator, hitting the same tired genre clichĂ©s as before. There is no ambition to do anything even remotely different and Ride Along 2 simply plugs interchangeable parts into the formula.

Remember last time when a small child schooled Ben? That was funny, so let’s do it again. Wasn’t it hilarious when James put Ben in all kinds of embarrassing situations? Well there’s more of that as they bumble through their South Beach adventure, getting into a foot chase, a car chase, a shootout, all exactly where such events are the most expected.

Last time, between Hart’s bouts of mania, Ben was an earnest character chasing his dream of being a cop and wanting to take care of his fiancĂ©. When Hart let loose and bounced his wild antics off of Ice Cube’s stern-faced straight man, there were some solid broad, funny moments to be found. But all of that is gone and instead of a sincere, if tightly wound little dude, now Ben is not only annoying, but he’s dangerously inept—in his first scene he gets James’ partner, played by Tyrese Gibson, shot. For his part, Cube may as well be sleepwalking here, never deviating from his tough guy stance—hell, he hardly ever takes off is damn sunglasses, which only enhances his practiced scowl.

Nearly every scene plays out with Ben saying or doing something stupid—and we’re talking the type of stupid that only people in movies ever pull off—and the Brothers-In-Law, a phrase that will make you want to claw your eardrums out eventually, have to figure a way out of this fresh mess. Again, this is how the first film played out, but while that movie had a manic, off-the-cuff feel, like director Tim Story let Hart cut loose to fill in the gaps, all the jokes in Ride Along 2 are forced and stale, even restrained in comparison. Even fans of the motor-mouthed comedic stylings of Kevin Hart have little to hang their hat on as he feels like he’s just going through the motions. The weight of carrying an entire movie on his shoulders is obvious.

The new additions bring relatively little to the table. Jeong is there to add to the comedy party, but only gets a few tired laughs that are always easy to spot—the hacker nerd jokes are almost shockingly rote. Munn is underutilized, used more as eye candy than for her comedy chops, playing a relatively straight Miami detective who teams up with Ben and James. James likes her because she’s as tough and surly as he is. Bratt has some fun playing the slick drug lord who likes to live large and throw lavish parties, at moments almost delightfully self aware, but even that eventually devolves into a stock bad guy spiel.

Ben is, of course, still an avid gamer who goes by the online moniker Black Hammer, and Story and the script pepper Ride Along 2 with references—again, Ben’s Call of Duty knowledge proves to be a worthwhile asset on the streets as he can identify obscure weapons on the fly. Most of these are light and funny, but when a car chase turns into a Grand Theft Auto style animated affair, it’s a distracting stylistic flourish, out of step with anything else in the movie. Worse, it looks like it came from a second rate, ten-year-old racing game.

On the same topic, the digital effects work elsewhere leaves much to be desired. Characters running away from explosions expose subpar green screen work at their blurry edges, and Kevin Hart tussles with a CGI alligator that looks like something out of a Syfy monster-of-the-week flick—why bother hiring an animal wrangler when you can just crap out a gator made of pixels? It’s only one scene.

In reality, Ride Along 2 isn’t any more or less formulaic than its predecessor, though before Ben’s earnestness and the chemistry between Kevin Hart and Ice Cube elevated it slightly above the slapstick antics and buddy cop genre tropes. This time around there’s little time or space for character, as Tim Story and company bank on what was established in the first movie and never add anything new. Funny enough, you’ll get the most out of Ride Along 2 if you’re a die hard Kevin Hart fan or an Ice Cube completist, but there isn’t much that will be remembered walking out of the theater, and this is probably one best left for home video or stumbling across late one night on cable. [Grade: C-]

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