“Ride Along” was by no means a great movie, but it executed an amiable enough premise, pairing up the stonefaced Ice Cube with the whirligig Kevin Hart, for your standard mismatched buddy movie. The plot was besides the point, and I doubt anyone could recall it in great detail, but the movie was effective in its mild way of generating occasionally humorous sparks between the leads. It was an earnest if not wholly successful movie, that almost reached the admittedly low bar it established for itself. It was also a massive box office hit. Now two years later comes the sequel, “Ride Along 2,” a disappointing followup that beyond proving the initial movie was a fluke, is considerably soured an almost audacious contempt for the audience.
Of the four writers who penned the first film, only two return this time, with Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi not willing to mess with success to the point of laziness. Now a rookie cop with barely a month on the job, Hart’s Ben Barber once again sets out to prove himself and win the brotherly affection of Detective James Payton (Cube), his brother-in-law to-be. A case involving a local drug dealer takes James’ investigation to Miami, which finds him reluctantly dragging along Ben, if only to finally make him realize he’s not cut out for cop work. Of course, the job winds up being bigger than they thought, and soon they find themselves working alongside Miami cop Maya (Olivia Munn) and A.J. (Ken Jeong), a computer hacker.
The story this time around is even more inconsequential and incomprehensible than in the first movie. “Ride Along 2” initially uses an encrypted USB key as a Macguffin, but drops it along the way as a narrative device, for a string of scenes connected by exposition, as the characters fill in the story gaps in what is ultimately a barely warmed over tale about a seemingly respectable businessman, played with unremarkable smarm by Benjamin Bratt, who is actually *gasp* a major criminal figure. Again, none of this matters, and in “Ride Along,” director Tim Story had the good instinct to keep the plot out of the way of his actors. As long as Cube and Hart were being funny, there was no need to dampen that spirit. But here, the story consistently gets in the way, and grinds the movie to a halt so often that “Ride Along 2” never gains any momentum. Not only does the picture busy itself with a rote story, it’s saddled further by Munn (who spends most of her screentime in a low-cut dress, and deserves much better) and Jeong (whose comedy mileage ran out a long time ago), added as a love interest and best buddy for James and Ben respectively, and a ticking clock subplot revolving around Ben’s upcoming wedding to Angela (Tika Sumpter), that like many threads in the movie, gets abandoned along the way.
The material is threadbare, aggressively dull, and almost entirely unfunny, but Hay, Manfredi and Story seem to cling to the idea that if they throw as much as possible at the screen, some of it will stick. And thus, “Ride Along 2” is crammed with a dance number, a club party scene, a showdown with an alligator, a car chase (intercut with video game style animation), and a foot chase, almost none of which are actually organic to the story, nor rendered with any degree of care. Story, who has made two “Fantastic Four” movies, can’t muster any kind of invention or imagination to bring to even the most ordinary of buddy cop tropes. Meanwhile, Cube and Hart are so certain that whatever comes out of their mouth will be hilarious, and their chemistry infallible, they fail to notice the tumbleweeds that seem to roll by in almost all of their scenes. They have been far funnier in “Conan” remotes, than they are here, and there’s a distinct reason for that: Cube and Hart are able to relax and be themselves.
Just as the recently released “Daddy’s Home” seemed conflicted about fitting the antics of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg into a PG-13 rating, a similar sensation is felt in “Ride Along 2.” The first film somehow managed to make the rating a non-issue, but in the followup there is a clear desire ensure four-quadrant appeal, and it leaves both Cube and Hart noticeably contained, and somewhat content to underplay their comedic assets.
Indeed, the entire film seems cloaked with a general vibe of “good enough.” Embarrassingly cheap CGI effects, poor ADR, and slipshod, jarring editing are the technical failures that compound with the creative ones to indicate a movie that’s not just miscalculated, but seemingly committed to putting together, at its best, a deliverable product and nothing more. And so it is. “Ride Along 2” is a catalog entry in Universal’s library, and a line number on a ledger, packaged to hopefully deliver a predetermined return on investment. If that sounds exciting, just imagine how much fun the movie is. [F]