A film review by Craig J. Koban May 13, 2016

 

RIDE ALONG 2 j

2016, PG-13, 101 mins.

 

Ice Cube as James Payton  /  Kevin Hart as Ben Barber  /  Tika Sumpter as Angela Payton  /  Benjamin Bratt as Pope  /  Olivia Munn as Maya Cruz  /  Ken Jeong as A.J.  /  Nadine Velazquez as Tasha  /  Glen Powell as Troy

Directed by Tim Story  /  Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

RIDE ALONG 2 is barely a movie.  It's a sequel so unnecessary, so devoid of anything approximating substance, and so frustratingly derivative and bland that – beyond collecting massive paychecks – you have to question the motives behind all those involved in front of and behind the camera.  

I’ve seen pathetically phoned-in films before, but this follow-up to the already putrid 2014 original mournfully coasts by on its very same tired and overused clichés and conventions.  Hell, RIDE ALONG 2 is not so much a sequel as it is a slavishly faithful remake of the first entry, right down to its buddy/cop formula, the tension between the two leads, the situations that the characters find themselves in, and so forth.  If I were teaching a college course on 'Recycled Cinema' then this film would be at the upper echelon of the curriculum. 

I’m going to be awfully fair to this film in saying upfront that I do admire and respect stars Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as talented on-screen comedians.  Cube has demonstrated in films like 21 JUMP STREET and 22 JUMP STREET that he’s capable of being hilariously stone cold and mean spirited.  Kevin Hart plays the same character type in every film, to be sure, but he’s so resoundingly good at embodying aggressively motormouthed, but well-meaning simpletons that his presence alone brings a tremendous amount of agreeable performance good will to just about any film – good or bad – that he occupies.  Moreover, I like seeing these two actors on screen together, seeing as they have a nice and unforced give-and-take chemistry and rapport.  But their collective displayed enthusiasm is undone, though, in the manner RIDE ALONG 2 gives them no meaty and substantial material to really sink their teeth into.  They’re just awkwardly going though the motions here, and it shows. 

 

 

It’s pretty flabbergasting just how much RIDE ALONG 2 plagiarizes the original film, but this time with even more diminishing returns.  Again, all this movie does well, I guess, is to rehash and retrofit the cockamamie story from the first film, which already was buried under layer upon layer of hackneyed genre toupees.  Detective James Payton (Cube) once again pays no respect whatsoever to his brother-in-law-to-be Ben Barber (Hart), who’s set to marry James’ sister (predictably to his consternation) and has recently become a rookie cop.  James really hates it when – during the opening sections of the film – Ben blows his and his partner’s (Tyrese Gibson) cover during an underground street racing sting operation.  Oh, how devilishly clever!  They got one of the stars of the FAST AND FURIOUS films to have a cameo here.  How quaint! 

Needless to say, because of Ben’s bumbling disposition, Mayfield is wounded in the ensuing chaos, which leads to Ben feeling like his career as a law enforcement officer may officially be tanked.  One positive of the operation is that an encrypted thumb drive was recovered, which no one at the police department can access.  However, the drive does show the signature of the man who did the encrypting in the first place, a Miami-based hacker named AJ (a criminally unfunny Ken Jeong), who in turn is in bed with a vile and dangerous drug kingpin named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt, looking mostly bored and disinterested throughout).  James realizes that he has to follow his leads to Miami and in no way shape or form wishes Ben to tag along (can you blame him?).  However, James’ sister pleads with him to let Ben accompany him on his mission so that she can be free to plan their upcoming wedding ceremony.  James begrudgingly agrees, and Ben – once again – “rides along” with him to capture Pope, with an ally in Miami Detective Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn) tagging along as well in hopes of cracking the case wide open. 

There are only two moments of modest creative inspiration to be had in RIDE ALONG 2.  The first occurs during a spirited dialogue exchange between the pop culture obsessed Ben and AJ, during which time their argue with one another as to which chapter of the original STAR WARS trilogy is the finest (AJ despises the Ewoks, so is rightfully anti-RETURN OF THE JEDI, which leads to an even more heated debate).  The second instance is quite amusing, which plays off of Ben’s already established passion for GRAND THEFT AUTO-like video games.  During a particularly intense high-speed chase involving Ben and James perusing their prey, we see the whole action sequence as Ben does…as a strange hybrid of real life morphed with the aesthetic of a Rockstar game.  It’s quite a hoot, actually, and truly represents the only time RIDE ALONG 2 deserves minor props for being somewhat innovative with such a relatively prosaic, done-to-death type of action scene. 

Yet – sigh – almost everything in the film is a substandard comedic wasteland void of genuine laughs.  Director Tim Story (yes, the same man that helmed the only good FANTASTIC FOUR movie in what seems like eons ago) can’t even make up for the genuine lack of humor in this “comedy” when it comes to the only other ingredient that could have saved it: action.  Besides the aforementioned video game inspired sequence, most of the set pieces here land with a resounding thud.  When not perfunctorily framing random shots of Hart and Cube standing around sun drenched locales replete with heavily busty, bikini clad women, Story unleashes would-be amusing and exciting sequences involving Hart – screaming like a high-pitched infant – wrestling…with an alligator, which in no way is anywhere close to being as funny as everyone making the film thinks it is.  

RIDE ALONG 2 is also a horrendous offender at wasting talent beyond its two main headliners.  Benjamin Bratt plays a baddie that's generic, vanilla plain, and genuinely lacking in tangible menace, so much so that you have to wonder why people in the film even fear him.  And then there’s the lovely Olivia Munn, so rock solid and assured in the past (see HBO’s THE NEWSROOM for proof), but here she plays a overly sexualized female cop that shows up, for example, at crime scenes from the gym all sweaty while still wearing scanty form fitting workout apparel.  She really deserves better than just being an object for viewers to ogle at.  Granted, she’s not as teeth gratingly annoying as Jeong is in the film, a performer that’s capable of being riotously funny in movies when given the right material; he’s simply embarrassing in RIDE ALONG 2. 

Actually, most of RIDE ALONG 2 is embarrassing.  But I get it…I really do.  RIDE ALONG 1 made $154 million at the box office on a meager $25 million budget.  I understand why the studio thought that this could be a potential cash cow series and moved forward with a new installment.  Yet, this sequel pitifully reveals that its makers, stars, and studio behind it had no interest whatsoever in taking these characters to new, undiscovered places worthy of our rooting investment.  RIDE ALONG 2 is the very epitome of an insipidly obvious cash grab for all involved.  It’s also slothful copycat cinema at its most unrefined and blatant.  Granted, considering that it’s blatantly copying RIDE ALONG 1…that’s not something that this sequel should wear like a badge of honor. 

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