Eastwood’s conceptions of heroism and villainy have always been, if not endlessly complex, at least never simplistic.
At some point in between the gun-glorifying shootouts and the ridiculous vehicular chases that end in an explosive inferno that would scare even Dante, “Ride Along 2” pulls over now and then to engage in comical repartee. Such as when the sequel pauses to allow its motor-mouthed star Kevin Hart to engage in a debate over which chapter from the original “Star Wars” trilogy is the best. Hart goes with “Return of the Jedi” while cast newcomer Ken Jeong, whose on-the-run computer hacker AJ is virulently anti-Ewok, sticks with “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Yes, this is just one of a multitude of throwaway jokes. But it might also be a throwdown. This second helping of Hart’s hyper hijinks as rookie cop Ben, once more paired with Ice Cube’s glowering bulldog presence as rule-flouting veteran James, exists for the same reason that “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” does: money.
The crime caper’s 2014 predecessor opened to a surprising $41.5 million in the dead of January and ended up collecting $135 million. Not surprisingly, and just like the seventh “Star Wars” outing, “Ride Along 2” pretty much employs the same crowd-pleasing blueprint as the initial go-round: Ben and James are at odds. Ben and James must capture a bad guy. Ben blunders and James fumes. Ben proves to be a law-enforcing savant of sorts. James commits all manner of civil-liberty infractions with impunity. And they eventually get their man.
That might be one reason why box-office pundits predict that this rather unremarkable crime-caper follow-up will finally vanquish “The Force Awakens,” the top domestic grosser of all time, by ending its three-week run at No. 1.
The plot picks up shortly after the first movie ended, with former Atlanta security guard Ben just a week away from being wed to adoring girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, a sweet actress whose value to the story is sadly reduced to the depth of her cleavage) now that brother James has given his blessing. Once again, Hart’s over-eager, accident-prone apprentice—on probation now that he has graduated from police school—must prove he is worthy to be a full-fledged officer.
After a belabored opening sequence in which height-challenged Ben struggles mightily to exit a bouncy low-rider and eventually causes James’ partner (Tyrese Gibson of the “Fast & Furious” franchise) to be shot, he and James head to a Miami to find AJ, the key to catching a shipping mogul who specializes in all manner of illegal contraband (Benjamin Bratt as a rather lackadaisical villain who could at least have bothered to twirl his goatee).
Returning director Tim Story takes advantage of the switch to a tropical clime by attiring Hart in clownish tourist clothes and jamming crowd scenes with as many busty, booty-shaking bikini babes and shapely model types as he can. Thankfully, Olivia Munn gets to flex some female muscle as Maya, a Miami homicide detective who is capable of melting Ice Cube’s street-hardened heart while joining Ben and James on their mission. But she, too, is upstaged by her chest-hugging apparel, topped off by a dress with a plunging neckline that comes in handy as she uses her wiles to distract Bratt's baddie on the dance floor (and if that isn’t a tired cliché, then I don’t know what is) while attending a fancy party.
How confident are the makers of “Ride Along 2” that they will cash in again? Consider that the worst slapstick escapade is highlighted in the trailer, as a screechy Hart must pretend to ward off what is likely to be the cheesiest fake giant alligator since, well, 1980’s “Alligator.” And just wait for the breathless backyard foot race through Little Havana when Hart and Jeong encounter all manner of predictable obstacles, including the typical mean dog and having to bounce on a trampoline to get over a barrier. At least it is more exciting than when Hart argues the decorative merits of hydrangeas with Sherri Shepherd as a tyrannical wedding planner.
To be fair, there are at least two standout moments that should be acknowledged. One is Hart’s clever bit about custom ringtones used to identify cell callers that pays off with a great aural punchline. The other is a rather original twist on the usual high-impact car chase that allows us to see the action in the way that video-game addict Ben does—as a real-life version of “Grand Theft Auto.” One of the loudest laughs arrives when we get to enjoy a scowling James re-imagined as a game character. Points for greater diversity in the cast as well, but, if there is a second sequel in the offing, please allow the women to be more than the sum of their body parts.
Probably a good test of whether you should consider riding along with this low-rent version of “Bad Boys” meets “Rush Hour” is if you are tickled by Ben suggesting that he and James call themselves “The Brothers-in-Law.” Get it? They are brothers-in-law and they are "brothers" IN Law. OK. You can stop giggling now.
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