by Philip Price
The first “Ride Along” movie came out a little over two years ago. I saw that movie in theaters opening weekend, but admittedly haven't returned to the film and never felt any desire to do so (there are much better Kevin Hart comedies out there if you need to fill your Hart quota). Going into this unnecessary, but inevitable sequel (the first earned $134 million domestically on a $25m budget) I attempted to conjure up some type of memory of that first film, but other than the basic premise I had nothing. I couldn't even recall enough to know where they might go with things in this sequel. As it turns out, and if I remember correctly, not much has changed. Hart is basically still at security guard status in terms of how Ice Cube thinks of him and the whole point of the endeavor this time around is so that Hart's rather ignorant and annoying character might prove himself good enough to be a detective rather than simply a police officer. The effort put into story here is almost insulting as writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (two of the four original screenwriters) essentially throw a bunch of clichés at us while having Hart's character try and comment on how clichéd they are by correlating them to the ‘Grand Theft Auto’-like video game that he's obsessed with. If you're wondering, yes, playing video games along with the online persona he's created in "Black Hammer" are the biggest character developments of Hart's character that we get. As for Cube, he sticks with the same, stern attitude that hates to put up with his partner's incessant talking, but is somehow OK with this guy marrying his sister and being a part of his life for the foreseeable future. It is this daunting thought that gives way to the epiphany of allowing Hart's Ben Barber to accompany his James Peyton to Miami for what is supposed to be a quick trip to obtain and question a witness. Of course, things don't go as planned and bigger crimes are connected to even bigger crime bosses and you know what beats this thing is going to hit and where it's going from the beginning.
With his wedding upcoming, Ben is getting all the more anxious to take the next step in his profession while at the same time getting frustrated with his wedding planner (Sherri Shepherd). After an opening sequence that details how Ben shoots James' new partner, Mayfield (Tyrese Gibson being underutilized as hell), and that a connection in the case he and Mayfield were investigating leads to a hacker in Miami the opportunity is ripe for Ben to both redeem himself and show his worth. James reluctantly decides to take Ben with him to Miami where they track down A.J. (Ken Jeong). A.J. is the hacker who, for one reason or another, decided to take some money from his boss, Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt). The twist is that Pope is an honest businessman and philanthropist to the people of Miami, so when A.J. exposes the wealthy Pope to be who he truly is, James, Ben and their new found Miami friend, homicide detective Maya (Olivia Munn), team up to take this kingpin down. And that's all there is to it. The wedding sets the goal for which our characters need to return in time and Munn's Maya is more a love interest for Cube than an independent woman just trying to make a living (did we really need to know she practiced yoga?). Bratt, who hasn't been on the big screen for nearly three years, makes a formidable baddie if not a particularly memorable one, but this movie isn't meant to be memorable, is it? No, “Ride Along 2” is meant to be a broad comedy with standard jokes that are guaranteed to offend no one while marching out an appealing cast to play familiar archetypes that are sure to allow general audiences to settle right in and mindlessly enjoy this brief, hour and a half comedy without recognizing just how lazy and rote the film actually is.
While I remember laughing enough at the first one, this sequel can't even inspire slight chuckles consistently which unfortunately ends up leaving the film to lean on the action which is a joke in itself. Director Tim Story (who has now headed up four franchises with this, “Think Like A Man,” “Barbershop” and “The Fantastic Four”) is clearly only here for the paycheck as he avoids shooting an entire chase scene by showing it to us through Ben's video game influenced point of view. Worse than this lack of any kind of stylistic choice in his bland direction though is the laziness within the storytelling. Does anyone involved here even care what story they are telling? Are they even trying to tell one? Any audience member with any kind of awareness of how sequels work will understand this is a product rather than a piece of art and it is a product manufactured on the appeal of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube's popularity and the even greater returns that will presumably be received when they are on screen together. In essence, “Ride Along 2” is little more than an excuse to make a little more money while allowing Hart to do his thing and elicit a few laughs (all while promoting his next stand-up special, mind you) while continuing to carve out his niche within the industry where he can put out something akin to the “Ride Along” movies every January and make handsome returns. As it did with Adam Sandler though, this shtick will get old and people will stop coming if it's clear you're only putting in enough effort to get paid with their money. I admittedly came to this conclusion early on as I sat back and experienced “Ride Along 2.” It became apparent that this was more a collection of scenes where all involved were simply throwing things at a wall to see what would stick rather than anything resembling an actual movie and throughout its hour and 40-minute runtime it never proved me wrong.
I would have appreciated this movie more had it tried anything at all and failed, but that it fails because it tries to do nothing new, or fresh, or even remotely funny makes it all the more frustrating. Sure, there are a few throwaway lines that Cube tosses out with such confidence and grimace that I laughed, but this was mainly because I was reminded of his character in the ‘Jump Street’ movies more than anything. And sure, Hart has a few tangents that contain a few moments of inspired hilarity here and there, but when Ken Jeong is the best part of your movie you know you've failed on multiple levels. I haven't thought Jeong was funny since the first ‘Hangover’ film, but “Ride Along 2” utilizes him just enough that he doesn't become grating, but rather becomes the only reliable comic relief in this rather dull procedural. Some of the jokes are so over the top dumb it's a wonder they didn't stop halfway through shooting them and wonder what the point of it all was or at the very least was it even funny? I'm referring to bits like the one you see with the ceiling fan in the trailer, or the one where Hart wrestles a CGI alligator, or the one the movie ends on where Hart is being drug behind a speed boat while screaming non-stop in hopes that someone is laughing at him. It all feels desperate. It's not funny, it's just kind of sad. The movie does little to advance the characters giving them just enough forward motion so that they might easily revert back to the beginning stages where a third film could pick right back up and essentially start from the same point. Sure, Ben and Angela (Tika Sumpter) are now officially married making James and Ben officially family and sure James has a little more faith in him by the time he and Ben have caught Pope, but in the final shot where James decides to point and laugh at his brother-in-law rather than haphazardly trying to rescue him he shows that he still has no respect for the guy. Cue “Ride Along 3” ...