Saturday, January 23, 2016

'Ride Along 2' review

I find it funny when I look back now, but when the original Ride Along was set to hit theaters in January 2014, I was actually pretty excited for it. The trailers were amusing, Kevin Hart's star was on the rise, and pairing him with Ice Cube seemed like a great idea. Then I saw the movie. Ride Along was undoubtedly one of 2014's worst films, a lazy, uninspired buddy cop movie that was neither funny nor entertaining. There was nearly nothing good about it- it was a soul-sucking experience. So it's safe to say that I wasn't looking forward to Ride Along 2 at all. The marketing promised more of the same and well, yeah, that's pretty much what you get. Nearly a carbon copy of the original film, Ride Along 2 follows the Hangover template of taking the same story and simply moving it to a new location. Slightly worse than the original and absurdly predictable, Ride Along 2 is another cold and uninteresting corporate product that fails as an action comedy.

Ride Along 2 continues the adventures of veteran cop James Payton (Ice Cube) and his undersized, under-experienced partner Ben Barber (Kevin Hart). After botching a drug bust, Payton and Barber are left in a tough position with their superior officer, Lt. Brooks (Bruce McGill). However, one good thing came from the bust- a piece of evidence that leads the two men to Miami. Despite the fact that Ben is getting married to James' sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) in a week, Angela begs James to take Ben with him to Miami. So they go.....and stuff happens I guess. There's a big businessman (played by Benjamin Bratt) who's shockingly the main villain (spoiler: it's not a shock at all), a nerdy hacker (Ken Jeong) who stole some money, and a female cop (Olivia Munn) who may or may not be a love interest for James. It's all the same. You've seen this movie before. Trust me.

I hope that nobody confuses me saying a few good things about this movie with me giving it a recommendation. It's not good at all. Director Tim Story has become somewhat more talented with the camera, which in turn makes the action sequences a bit more entertaining. And the film is set in Miami this time, so it's a bit more visually interesting. That's about it. As a comedy, Ride Along 2 is almost completely devoid of laughs. I chuckled maybe once or twice. And as an action movie, it's a pretty dull affair with all of the familiar elements (mismatched partners, drugs, crime lords, etc.). At this point, I'm no longer angry with the Ride Along series- I'm just frustrated. There are so many talented people involved with this series- so why do we keep getting the same dreary results? I can't possibly explain it, but it's endlessly baffling.

If there's a word to describe Ride Along 2, it's uninspired. Most movies try to mask their predictability. Ride Along 2 doesn't even afford us that luxury. It's so obviously calculated and controlled and I was pretty much able to see where this thing was going from scene one. Now, here's the thing. I know some people are great at predicting movies and figuring out exactly where a movie is going from the moment that it starts. I am not one of those people. I don't know if I'm just dumb, or if my brain purposefully doesn't think during movies to avoid spoiling it for myself, but I am usually pretty awful at deciphering the plot of a movie. I didn't even have to try at all to know where Ride Along 2 was going. It's that utterly and completely predictable.

But beyond the tried-and-true plot, there's nothing fresh or interesting in Ride Along 2. As I said earlier, it's practically the same movie as the original. Except it's even less funny. The filmmakers repeat setpieces and jokes, and even the character dynamic of the movie is the same. It ignores almost any and all progress that the original movie made in regards to the relationship between James and Ben, allowing for Ice Cube to make more stupid jokes at Hart's expense. And that's another thing about this movie- it's never funny. Cube is great in the Jump Street movies and Hart is a natural comedian, but man, nothing in this movie lands. Everything feels so safely in the wheelhouse of these actors that not a single joke is effective at generating laughs.

The failure of this film (and this series for that matter) is not for a lack of talent in front of the camera. Ice Cube may make some questionable choices when it comes to his movies, but he's an undoubtedly funny and talented guy. Hart has still yet to be in a good studio comedy, but he's quite hilarious in small doses. And even the supporting cast isn't bad- Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong are usually solid and Benjamin Bratt and Sherri Shepard have been solid over the years. They just don't have anything to work with. Tim Story is a great businessman, but not a great director- he shows flashes of promise, but so many scenes are shot in a bland style. And on top of that, the script from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (the guys behind cinematic classics like R.I.P.D. and Clash of the Titans) never works, as evidenced by the fact that there's no reason to ever laugh or be interested in what's happening in this movie. The characters are empty and most of the new players have zero personality or intrigue, which is shockingly bad even for this series.

One last note before I get to forget that this movie exists- Ride Along 2 might have the worst final battle in recent cinematic history. There are a few glimmers of hope that pop up throughout this film's 101 minute runtime, but the ending is not one of them. Like the original, the finale takes place in a shipping yard where the main characters happen to run into the drug dealers. The filmmakers build up the conflict decently, the fight begins and's over. Literally. There's no tension or drama or anything. The conflict in this movie just pretty much ends with a couple of bullets. It's probably the most anticlimatic final scene ever. I was astonished.

Ride Along 2 is in a slightly shinier package, but make no mistake- this is no better than the last time. Contrived and endlessly boring, this "action/comedy" wastes the talents of everyone involved on a weak script that mashes together a bunch of things that you've seen before in better movies. It's repetitive and unfunny, with an atrocious and silly conclusion. I know that Cube will bounce back from this series (with somewhat lackluster box office receipts, I don't see a Ride Along 3 coming down the pipeline any time soon) and I'm still holding out hope for Hart. Central Intelligence, which will pair Hart with Dwayne Johnson, actually doesn't look bad. Hopefully it makes me forget about this whole Ride Along mess.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                              (4.3/10)

Image Credits: Variety, EW, Telegraph, Joblo

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