Movie Review: Ride Along 2
By Ben Gruchow
January 19, 2016

Hey, feel like a cash grab? I sure do!

Ride Along 2 constitutes 30 minutes of shrill and embarrassing incident, given an interminable 60-minute wind-up; it’s the sort of misbegotten studio-mandated claptrap that gives January a bad name at the theater. The movie’s status as a blatant cash-in on the surprising box-office success of 2014’s Ride Along, unseen by me, is evident from the divergent cast lineups between the two installments: nobody seems to have returned save Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as the two leads, and Tika Sumpter as Hart’s fiancée.

Not that the presence of Laurence Fishburne would have helped things, of course. Laurence Olivier couldn’t salvage this material. The story, such as it is, involves a shady businessman arranging for shipments of illicit material from a Miami port. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart play James Payton and Ben Barber, two Atlanta police detectives who are, for some reason, invaluable enough to be transported across state lines to assist the Miami police department with tracking down the culprit. We in the audience, of course, know that said culprit is Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt); the movie carelessly flings its hand down in the first scene, and so we are taken on one of those tiring movie journeys where we already know what it takes the main characters several long stretches of unconvincing detective work to discover.

Let me give you an example of what this film has to offer in that department: Early on, a character retrieves a USB flash drive from the antagonist’s possession. How this happens - and which character does the retrieving - escapes me, even though it has been only a few hours since I left the theater. I would take issue with an enjoyable version of this film performing so insubstantially in long-term memory, let alone what we’re actually provided. Anyway, the USB drive is given over to the Atlanta PD’s forensics department, where the lone technician more or less throws up his hands: “This drive fried my computer!” he says. “It’s hacker-level encryption!” he adds, letting us know in gleefully intimidating terms about how the drive’s owner right-clicked on the drive, selected "Encrypt," and chose a key with many characters. Where hacking comes in, I’m not certain. But then, I’m not a trained forensic technician.

But since the drive is encrypted (on a hacker level), and therefore filled with inaccessible gibberish data, how did the computer get fried? I haven’t even touched on the way they were able to identify the hacker by the big screen-sized signature he left behind, complete with mug shot (“We only got lucky because the hacker has an ego,” the forensic technician reminds us, confident in his knowledge of a computer hacker’s great weak spot). A screenwriter’s ineptitude at comprehending basic modern technology can be a source of diverting amusement if it’s in the middle of a would-be serious thriller. I know; I’ve seen The Perfect Guy. But Ride Along 2 is obsessed with being a loud and raucous comedy when it’s not trying to be a thriller, so this moment and others like it just sit there and curdle on-screen, like a bowl of milk left in the hot sun.

Wait, I’m not done. Payton and Barber hunt down said hacker, A.J. (Ken Jeong), who proceeds to lead them through a long and complicated procedure by which the drive can be decrypted, assuming the characters sneak into Pope’s office at his secured complex; those of us in the audience who are aware that decryption generally depends more on the key itself, and not the physical machine or its location, are left to develop an eye-twitch in silence. I’ve spent quite a few words deconstructing a plot point that was likely given glancing attention (if any) by the screenwriters, but this mission drives the entire storyline of the first hour of a 95-minute film - and since it’s ultimately revealed that A.J. knew the key all along, it serves to show us how little the makers of this film cared about establishing any kind of real-world environment, as opposed to just clotheslining something up there for Ice Cube and Hart to mug in.

And mug they do, for achingly long stretches of time, to little or no avail. Rarely have I seen established actors try so hard to accomplish so little. There is, to my knowledge, one gag in the film that works on the basis of timing. It involves a toilet. At other moments, we are left to observe how little the movie cares about any of its context or characters; we can assume that Payton and Barber have had dialogue exchanges in which we learn why they decided to be detectives, or what they enjoy doing in their spare time, or why Barber enjoys playing video games with 15-year-old graphics engines. Perhaps these exchanges were in the first film, and we are meant to infer deeper meaning from shorthanded dialogue.

Or perhaps the concept of character and storyline, as vital to good comedy as it is to good drama, meant nothing to the filmmakers, and the script was a 100-page obstacle to be dealt with as a means to a paycheck. Perhaps that’s why we have a female character, Officer Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn), who implies physical intimidation and strength in her first scene, only to have her single most important function be to present herself as a seductive distraction for the bad guy, while the two main characters do the important stuff. I suppose we’ll never know.

About that distraction scene: It’s a dance sequence in which we and the other characters are meant to be impressed by Bratt’s skill and technique. We must take the observing characters at their word, though, so gracelessly blocked and edited is the sequence.

This is director Tim Story’s ninth major feature, and it would appear that he has still not learned how to stage or shoot any kind of scene except for a baldly functional dialogue exchange or establishing scene. Action sequences in their mildest form defeat him entirely; a mid-film car chase sequence here, staged on a wide and nicely paved straightaway in Miami in broad daylight, is visualized almost entirely as a cut-scene from Barber’s video game. We realize at the chase’s end that we have seen three minutes of low-resolution, low-texture graphics sub in for what should have been a very straightforward action scene. It’s as artless a blend of movie and game as I’ve seen since Uwe Boll and House of the Dead. I have not seen all of Story’s films, but on a purely technical level this is a marked step down from his Barbershop, and that was 14 years ago.

No amount of adequately conceived or executed action could make this film worth our time, though. It’s loud, dumb, hectic, unfunny, and inconsequential. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart have made good work, and they carry clout in a severely underrepresented demographic; what could have possessed them to devote their energy to such a low target as this? If Ride Along 2 is forgotten by the end of the month, it’ll be a small mercy. A bigger one would be the conclusion of this franchise.