If Ice Cube is going to keep playing cops, we’ve got a case for him to tackle: figure out who stole all the jokes in his new movie. Taken at face value, the action/comedy sequel Ride Along 2 could be some weird experiment, as it assembles artlessly rehashed action beats and gags that stumble off into distracted silence. The climax is set on Miami’s industrial docks–just try to envision a more generic location–but it should really take place in a recycling center. Then there might at least be some level of meta-commentary to enhance this test of patience.
The first Ride Along film cribbed from Rush Hour, but this sequel is more like a slow-lane riff on Beverly Hills Cop. Cube and Kevin Hart reprise roles from the original: Cube is a tough cop whose frown might as well be tattooed on and Hart is the eager puppy engaged to the cop’s sister. Hart’s character has just graduated from the police academy and has provisional status as a patrolman. You’ll be surprised to hear that the two guys don’t really get along, and that their oil and water combination is haplessly unsuited for doing real police work — at least until it isn’t.
The cold open sees Hart’s character nearly ruining an undercover operation in Atlanta, culminating with the first of many awkwardly-staged sequences. In this one, Hart can’t properly operate a low rider. Because he’s short. See, the car is big. Kevin Hart is not. It’s a joke. It’s the part where you should laugh.
Read that last paragraph again. Now spend one hundred minutes reading it. That should replicate the sense of watching Ride Along 2.
The Atlanta case points Cube to a cyber-criminal played by Ken Jeong, who is connected to a criminal enterprise in Miami run by supposedly legit businessman Antonio Pope. The only real reason for mentioning that detail is that, as Pope, Benjamin Bratt brings a bit of swagger and verve to the film. Even he, however, probably couldn’t tell you if this is meant to be a legit action/comedy or a parody of the genre.
With Hart in tow, Cube heads to Miami in search of Jeong. The two leads are paired by a total contrivance, as Hart’s bride-to-be wants him out of the house in the final days before the wedding as he’s annoying the hell out of their wedding planner, but that’s really the least of the film’s problems. If any of the jokes worked, or the action thrilled, there’d be no reason to complain.
An example of just one failure: Hart’s character is a gamer, and early on we see him playing a Grand Theft Auto-like video game, complaining all the while about his mistreatment by Cube and the police force. Later, Hart puts his gaming skills to work by imagining a high-speed chase in the guise of that game.
And… that’s the joke. There’s no real payoff, no disconnect between game and reality, no indication that this character’s perceptions or expectations are particularly skewed in the game. When Hart plays the game, he’s taken out by a granny with a shotgun, but there’s nothing that kooky in the scene that is meant to be the payoff.
That’s how it goes in Ride Along 2. Punchlines abandon their setups at whim. Several scenes of buildup to a gag about a Gucci toilet comes to zip, not even a hoity-toity flushing sound. It’s not uncommon for a big studio comedy to arrive in theaters with a bit of hacked-up flow. Gotta save something for the unrated home video release, after all, so jokes are trimmed and snipped. In Ride Along 2 jokes haven’t merely experienced awkward, possibly unethical plastic surgery, they’ve been roughly removed altogether.
Sure, a few jokes do hit. At those points my audience roared to life, like the parents of a perpetually inept young gymnast who finally nailed their first nine-point dismount. Here and there, moments of physical performance are, if never quite inspired, at least able offer some glimmer of conviction and investment.
No one seems to have much of an idea what to do with Olivia Munn, who plays a go-getter cop in Miami. Tough and capable, Munn’s character has potential that is never exploited.
Some form of chemistry is clearly meant to sizzle between Munn and Cube, but there are scenes where Cube looks like he can’t remember who this other human is in his scene, or why. Munn isn’t yet demonstrating that she’s got any great comic range, but sometimes she’s just left to stand around while Kevin Hart flails like a clown trying to mime the last moments of drowning.
An equal disregard for the performers and audience is the film’s greatest crime. This isn’t high art, and it doesn’t even have to be the year’s best comedy. A passably good time would do just fine. But the terminally listless filmmaking often makes the cast look bad, and it rewards the audience’s time investment with mere shreds of disposable, skimpy escapism.
Rating: 1 out of 5 burritos