There’s no question that the new picture from that renowned auteur Ice Cube is cinematic junk food–a hyperactive buddy movie with lots of frenetic chases, loads of gunfire, reams of alternately jokey and ripe dialogue, cookie-cutter characters and a convoluted diamond-heist plot which makes absolutely no sense. But it’s fairly tasty nonetheless–at least by the admittedly undemanding standards of this hackneyed genre.
The reason for that is probably that while Mr. Cube co-wrote the script and is one of the stars, he’s handed over directing duties to Kevin Bray, a newcomer who proves adroit at staging action scenes and getting through the lamentable expository sequences and frantic comic interludes with a minimum of embarrassment. That wasn’t the case with “The Players Club,” the awful 1998 piece that Ice Cube directed himself; but it does mirror the comparative success of his “Friday” series (the third episode of which is currently in preparation).
The immediate ancestry of “All About the Benjamins” can be traced back to the Simpson- Bruckheimer team’s 1995 “Bad Boys,” but that was just an African-American variant of the sort of wisecracking action picture featuring an unlikely pair of guys that’s been around forever. This example does exactly what you’d expect. It teams a burly, intense bounty hunter (Cube) with a fast-talking con-man he’s been chasing (Mike Epps) to track down a vicious criminal kingpin (Tommy Flanagan) and retrieve millions in hot rocks. It adds a bevy of nasty henchman in the employ of the main villain, a couple of vivacious girlfriends for the heroes, and a subsidiary plot thread about a missing lottery ticket that gives Epps an opportunity for lots of farcical bits–as well as the obligatory throbbing rap score). Predictably, the language is extremely rough (the recurrent culprit here isn’t the “F” word but the elongated “MF” one), and there’s plenty of shattered glass, screeching tires, bullet firefights and fisticuffs, as well as numerous comic rants that give Epps a chance to show off his standup-style hysterics. In the midst of such stuff it’s senseless to ask for any plausibility or coherence, and so the script doesn’t bother to provide any. But the testosterone level is mile-high.
The cast gets by. Ice Cube is as stiff as ever–he still resembles Mr. T without the gaudy jewelry–and Epps is a effective substitute for Martin Lawrence; he can surely rattle off insults with the best of them, and does frightened shtick well enough. (Happily, his voice lacks the fingernails- on-a-chalkboard quality of Chris Tucker’s.) Flanagan is simply ferocious as the nefarious brute Williamson, while Carmen Chaplin and Roger Guenveur Smith pull out all the stops as his minions. Supporting gals Eva Mendes and Valarie Rae Miller are lookers and get a chance to clobber a couple of bad guys in the last reel. Anthony Michael Hall is also present, according to the credits, but either he’s unrecognizable or I must have blinked and missed him.
“All About the Benjamins” doesn’t amount to much: it’s sloppily written and empty-headed. But compared to much bigger-budget entries in this cliche-ridden genre–and what one might have expected–it’s not half-bad.