It was almost exactly two years ago that “Ride Along” teamed Ice Cube and Kevin Hart in a formulaic action comedy about a mismatched pair of crime-fighters, one an Atlanta police detective and the other a manic wannabe who was also romancing the cop’s sister. To persuade the little loudmouth that he wasn’t police material, the cop allowed him to tag along on his rounds, with predictable results. Since it scored at the boxoffice, a sequel was inevitable, and it’s now arrived. “Ride Along 2” is just more of the same, which means it’s not very much.
The movie takes up shortly after the end of the first, in which the two leads solved a big case and achieved a degree of amity, grudging though it might have been on the part of no-nonsense James Payton (Cube). As the sequel begins, Ben Barber (Hart) has achieved his dream of becoming a rookie officer and is about to marry James’s sister Angela (Tika Sumpter), but Payton still doubts his competence for the job. Those doubts are confirmed when Ben interrupts an undercover operation, which leads to Payton’s partner (Tyrese Gibson) getting shot and a parking garage getting trashed.
Despite that, James agrees to allow Ben to accompany him on a trip to Miami; he claims it’s in response to Angela’s pleas to get her boyfriend out of her hair, since he’s been feuding with their wedding planner (Sherri Shepherd), but in actuality he hopes that the Ben will foul up again and get canned, proving that he’s been right all along about the diminutive guy’s lack of police potential.
The purpose of the trip to Miami is to interview a hacker named AJ (Ken Jeong) who, James believes, encrypted a flash drive he’s taken from an Atlanta drug kingpin he’s been tracking, which could identify the guy’s Florida supplier. The business gets complicated when the bad guy is identified as local bigwig Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt), a smartly-dressed shipping magnate who specializes in smuggling drugs and guns—and from whom AJ has unwisely stolen a million bucks. The plot devolves into a frantic set of set-pieces and chases in which James, Ben and AJ, together with Miami homicide detective Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn), attempt to get the goods on Pope while he in turns threatens them with the loss of their jobs—or worse.
It would be a fruitless enterprise to detail the convolutions scripters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have concocted to stretch this meager plot to feature length. Some of them make no sense at all: at one point the car being driven by Payton and Barber explodes after being outfitted with a bomb, but who might have planted it, and why, is never explained—and one doubts the writers could do so. The action sequences are lazily plotted (they always end with the suave Pope showing up, one step ahead of our purported heroes) and limply choreographed by director Tim Story (Peter S. Eliot’s stuttering editing doesn’t help). One car chase does work off the first movie’s portrayal of Ben as a video game addict, but while the juxtaposition of animation and live-action footage is the cleverest moment in the picture, that’s not saying much.
Lame as it is, the action in “Ride Along 2” is still superior to the comedy, which depends almost entirely on Hart’s increasingly irritating ranting. His shtick reaches its nadir in a sequence in which Barber faces off against a huge rubber alligator at Pope’s mansion—a bad idea poorly executed. Jeong, who’s usually the most frenetic person on screen, has apparently been instructed to tone things down so as not to compete with Hart. (He does, however, savor one of the script’s few amusing lines, when he explains to Payton why he’s been running away from him, “You’d run away from you too!”) Munn is wasted as Cube’s presumptive romantic interest, Sumpter’s stuck with a bland character, and Shepherd is reduced to a screeching stereotype. Bratt plays smooth sleaziness so well you might think it came naturally to him—a sad comedown for this gifted actor. Bruce McGill, meanwhile, doesn’t even bother trying as the boys’ long-suffering Atlanta boss.
As for Ice Cube, he’s actually becoming a bit more relaxed on screen as his career goes on, but he still offers little more than a constant scowl-and-growl act. “Ride Along 2” suggests, however, that’s not such a bad thing. On a couple of occasions toward the close, he’s required to show a softer side, and his attempt to smile comes across more like a frightening grimace. On the production side, the credits are basically average, though the number of establishing shot of Miami is so great that one can only presume that the city fathers demanded some sort of quota.
“Ride Along 2” pretty much follows the old advice about sequels—just make the same movie again. In this case, what was mediocre in the first go-around is no better in the second. But the take will probably be bigger, so expect a third installment.