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Going nowhere

Film review: "Ride Along 2" 

Going nowhere

The first "Ride Along" was an enjoyable, if never particularly good, action-comedy that coasted on the considerable comedic chemistry between actors Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as mismatched buddy cops (though with Hart's character a wannabe police officer to Ice Cube's veteran detective). Picking up not long after the events of the original film, "Ride Along 2" sees Hart once again playing diminutive, motor-mouthed Ben Barber, now a freshly graduated police academy cadet and a probationary officer. The new film sticks to the formula, giving audiences more of the same -- through as per the requirements of mainstream sequels, it's all bigger, louder, and a little staler this time around.

Tagging along with his soon to be brother-in-law, James (Cube), on a drug bust, the accident-prone Ben manages to bungle the investigation and inadvertently shoot the detective's current partner (Tyrese Gibson) in the process. With the position of partner now vacated, Ben insists on joining James when the case requires that they head to Miami on the tail of a kingpin-esque philanthropist and crimeboss named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt, mostly being Benjamin Bratt, but having a good time doing it).

Ben's fiancée, Angela (Tika Sumpter, who has even less to do than she did in the last film, which is saying something) pleads with her brother to take Ben along to get him out of her hair while she finalizes the last-minute details of the couple's impending nuptials. Despite having come around to him by the end of the last film, James agrees, deciding that he'll use the situation to prove to Ben once and for all that he's not cut out for law enforcement.

Hart and Cube's characters are defined by one specific trait (shrill and glowery, respectively), and both performers struggle to find ways to round them out. Hart's over-the-top persona can be funny, but he requires solid material to work off of, and the mostly laugh-free script -- credited to Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi -- just isn't up to the task. Ice Cube can play surly with the best of them, but he proved a much better straight man in the "Jump Street" films, where he had the stellar writing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller backing him up.

Returning director Tim Story has previously directed both actors to solid performances in comedies like "Barbershop" and "Think Like a Man," but here the actors are forced to simply recycle the most memorable bits from the first film. There's a couple clever gags, the best of which is a visually-inspired sequence that turns a standard car chase into a "Grand Theft Auto" style video game; that's admittedly not exactly the freshest inspiration, but we'll take what we can get.

Mostly a lot of wheel-spinning that goes nowhere, it's being generous to call the Pope plotline "by-the-numbers." The new Miami location leads Story to occasionally attempt poor facsimiles of the "hot girls and fast cars" montages that add a bit of cheeky flavor to the "Fast and Furious" films, but it only succeeds in making us miss the slick directorial skill behind that series. Considering the sequel's increased budget, it's a little perplexing that effects manage to look even shoddier than the first film. There's an unfortunate sequence in which Hart tangles with a truly terrible-looking CGI alligator that's just embarrassing, and manages to waste Hart's talent for slapstick in the process.

As the major new additions to the film's ensemble, Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong's characters are a mixed bag. Playing a local homicide detective who helps out with the investigation (and an eventual love interest for Cube), Munn gets a surprising amount to do (particularly given the type of movie she's in), but scenes like the one in which her character inexplicably shows up to a crime scene fresh from the gym and clad in only a sports bra don't do her any favors. As a hacker on Pope's payroll, Ken Jeong's mostly in obnoxious sidekick mode, and with their loud, over-the-top personalities, having him and Hart together onscreen is ... a lot to take.

Despite the limp material, "Ride Along 2" has already made boatloads of money, speeding past "The Revenant" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" to take the top spot at the box office last weekend, so it seems a given that we'll be seeing a "Ride Along 3" sometime in the near future. Between counting their piles of money, one can only hope the cast and filmmakers take the time to search out a script more worthy of their talents.

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