There’s something undeniably strange about Ride Along 2, the latest Ice Cube/Kevin Hart buddy cop vehicle directed by Tim Story, who also helmed the first movie. And I don’t just mean the fact that I knew literally nothing about its existence until it shockingly dethroned Star Wars: The Force Awakens from its number one weekend spot. Even when it happens to have been shot in the city I currently reside in, Miami, a fact which would also perplex me as we already have a Miami-based buddy cop franchise in the form of the Bad Boys franchise (but hey, I don’t think anybody wants Michael Bay representing their city). Nor is it the amount of backtracking the movie goes through simply to justify its existence, largely undoing most of the “growth” of the previous movie simply to start back at square one with its characters.
No, what very much throws me off most about Ride Along 2, more than all these things, is how underneath so much of it is a movie that acts like it desperately wants to be considered an intelligent parody of buddy cop pictures without actually putting in any of the intellectual hardwork that earns it consideration as one. Maybe I’m just overthinking the decisions Story made or maybe he actually looked back on Ride Along and thought “you know what? I’m saying absolutely nothing new.” But from the end of the very first scene where we are introduced to Benjamin Bratt’s smug Miami philanthropist villain Antonio Pope and pulls a murder based on the same kind you see in those 80’s Miami crime pictures (in fact, it’s especially when Bratt is on-screen that I got this vibe), I got the underlying sense of a self-awareness out of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s script to most of the paint-by-numbers plot developments and a fruitless attempt to make moments outrageous based on . But I think that may just be wishful thinking on my part, because very little of the rest of the movie actually qualifies as a consistent or coherent movie, especially compared to its disappointing but at least functioning predecessor.
For one, Ride Along 2 takes a long while before it gets moving with green-eared Ben (Hart) and his soon-to-be brother-in-law loose cannon detective James (Cube) investigating a Miami-based drug ring that found its way into Atlanta PD jurisdiction. Because first it goes out of its way to have Ben return on James’ shitlist when his ridiculous hijinks leads to James’ partner Mayfield (Tyrese Gibson in a role that seems like way too little screentime for him, coming from a guy who doesn’t even like Gibson) getting shot, a moment that leads to Ben’s suspension. James is assigned to Miami to trail the dealer the three of them had just busted to his boss, while Ben is stuck at home annoying his fiancee Angela (Tika Sumpter). James suddenly and arbitrarily decides that taking Ben off of his sister’s hands while she plans their wedding will scare him out of wanting to be a detective and so Ben and James are headed to Miami FINALLY. The movie dedicates this retroactive manner of plotting to get our heroes actually involved in the movie when it would be infinitely simpler to just establish the two of them as partners from the get-go. Ice Cube is angry enough to make his scowl natural even when Kevin Hart is doing nothing wrong.
And so that sort of summarizes the script for the entirety of it, Hay and Manfredi as screenwriters dedicating themselves so thoroughly to making the plot complicated, almost to avoid being mistaken as boilerplate buddy cop action-comedy, except that it’s exactly that once you cut through all the bullshit, from the introduction of Olivia Munn as a tough-as-hell Miami detective (she’s simply no match for Cube, though) and the certainty from her very first scene that she will be a romantic interest for James, to the moment under fire that Ben proves to have skills that save the moment (in an ugly animated sequence that feels like if the video game Grand Theft Auto were made by the guys who made the movie Foodfight!), to Pope telling a failed lackey that he won’t kill him before ordering him killed. It’s all the same beats that you’d find in any other movie, but Ride Along 2 shoots itself in the foot by convoluting the moments in between those recognizable cliches and failing to come off as anything less than annoying.
It also probably doesn’t help its case when it gives itself more comedy than the first movie, because now its not just Hart yapping at his bemused co-stars forever and ever but Ken Jeong enters the scene as a hacker-turned-hunted-informant. Jeong, like Hart, can either be passably amusing when he’s in the right sort of role and gets the right sort of material (Community, The DUFF) or he can be the fucking worst when he doesn’t. Take a good guess at what the circumstances are here.
But of course, I guess I should be especially alarmed when the idea behind setting anything in Miami is to make it feel like luxury porn by any means, and Ride Along 2 doesn’t care so much for that, not even the blandest travelogue fashion. The closest Story gets to tapping that shimmering city look to it is a sequence in which the protagonists infiltrate Pope’s mansion and… well, that’s all interiors. The second closest it gets to that is another darkened interior, a club that looks no more distinguishable from any of the clubs in Atlanta. All with either flat or underlighting that is way beyond the usually competent director. The movie can’t even be bothered to make a car chase on Ocean Dr. feel anywhere near hectic or busy as it would be at any point or a party yacht near Miami beach feel anything but cramped with Ken Jeong spending the sequence smiling at a computer. I’m not attached to this city at all, but a movie shot in Miami that doesn’t feel at all like it lives in Miami just feels sad to me. Even with all of Hart’s tacky shirts trying to come off as vibrant.
It’s still not anywhere near as dysfunctional as the Fantastic Four movies, but it’s proof that Tim Story always gets to his worst when he has to make a sequel to his films, even if Ride Along was never as enjoyable as Think Like a Man was. Everything’s just slightly more broken than before, Cube and Hart’s chemistry is getting more worn-out to the point of outright incompatibility, the energy is unsteady and frenetic, it’s just all feeling like this franchise outstayed itself and it’s only a sequel already. But yet that doesn’t assuage the fact that this is a ride that feels like it really went nowhere in the end.