Stand-up comic Kevin Hart still cracks me up. The 5-foot 4-inch, African-American, bantamweight comedian still reminds me of Chris Tucker standing in a two-foot deep hole. Hart’s hyperactive verbosity, clueless impertinence, and infectious vitality make him riotously funny. He stole the show in the original “Ride Along” crime thriller comedy co-starring Ice Cube, and he is still a scene-stealer in “Ride Along” director Tim Story’s “Ride Along 2” (** OUT OF ****) with Ice Cube still skewering him with his steely-eyed scowl. Unfortunately, “Ride Along 2” doesn’t surpass “Ride Along.” Despite the sidesplitting shenanigans that the vertically challenged Hart performs, “R.I.P.D” co-scribes Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who rewrote the original “Ride Along,” don’t provide any plot surprises. Remember the two corrupt cops that surprised Ice Cube at the end of “Ride Along?” Nothing like that happens in this superficial sequel. Like the original, “Ride Along 2” dutifully recycles every cliché from those 1980s’ era police procedural potboilers. Meanwhile, producer Will Packer has sprung enough Shekels to shift the formulaic action from Atlanta, Georgia, to scenic Miami, Florida. Indeed, “Ride Along 2” resembles one of director Tim Story’s favorite crime comedies “Midnight Run” (1988) about a bounty hunter shielding a mob accountant long enough to get him into witness protection. Story turns the accountant into a computer hacker for “Ride Along 2,” and zany “Hangover” actor Ken Jeong plays the hacker with unusual restraint. Debonair Benjamin Bratt is cast in the thankless role as a benevolent Miami millionaire who is really a villain. You’ll know from the start that his benevolence is a charade. Apart from from Hart and Cube, only two characters survived “Ride Along.” Bruce McGill shows up as gruff Lieutenant Brooks, who reprimands Ice Cube, and Tika Sumpter is back as Hart’s leading lady preparing for their impending marriage. Sumpter clocks in more screen time than McGill, who is confined to three scenes. Again, if you’ve seen cop movies like “Rush Hour,” “Fuzz,” “48 HRS,” “Training Day,” and both “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” flicks, you’ll know what to expect from this encore outing.
“Ride Along 2” opens with a sequence similar to the original “Ride Along.” Atlanta Vice Detective James Payton (Ice Cube of “Ghosts of Mars”) sets out to trap a dangerous drug dealer, Troy (Glen Powell of “Expendables 3”), but Ben Barber (Kevin Hart of “The Wedding Ringer”) disobeys Payton’s orders and interferes with their undercover sting operation. Troy and his partner brandish their pistols, and Payton’s partner, Mayfield (Tyrese Gibson of “Fast Five”), takes a slug in the shoulder. Troy flees in a stolen truck with Payton clinging for dear life to an open door like Eddie Murphy in the first “Beverly Hills Cop.” Troy doesn’t get far and crashes the truck. Not only does Payton arrest Troy, but also he confiscates a flash drive. Troy refuses to talk. Later, Payton discovers a link to a hacker named ‘Bone Machine,’ A.J. (Ken Jeong), who resides in Miami. Lieutenant Brooks (Bruce McGill of “Animal House”) approves Payton’s request to travel to Miami, grill A.J., and learn who has been supplying Troy with his narcotics. Meantime, Ben’s future wife Angela (Tika Sumpter of “Salt”) begs her brawny brother to take Ben with him. Ben has been infuriating their harried wedding planner, Cori (Sherri Shepherd of “Precious”), about their nuptials, and palatable tension smolders between the two. At one point, Ben scrambles onto a chair so he can tower over Cori. She climbs atop a chair and looms above him. Defiantly, Ben jumps on the table. When he isn’t looking, the overhead ceiling fan wallops him in the head and sends him flying across the room to smash into a bookcase. Predictably, Ben eagerly seizes the opportunity when James requests him to ride along. After our heroes arrive in Miami, they brief Police Captain Pedro Hernandez (Carlos Gómez of “Desperado”) about their plans, and he assigns Homicide Detective Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn of “Magic Mike”) to escort them. Eventually, James and Ben locate the paranoid A.J. It seems that this scrawny hacker embezzled a million dollars from his boss, Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt of “Demolition Man”), that was designated as a bribe for Port Commissioner Griffin (James Martin Kelly) so Pope’s ships could clear the harbor without being inspected. Now, the dim-witted hacker fears that Pope’s assassins will track him down and shoot him. Mind you, a movie is in trouble when the audience is a step ahead of the heroes as they scramble to expose the chief villain.
“Ride Along 2” bumps up the action scenes to compensate for the shortage of surprises. During a careening auto chase, Ben imagines that he is playing the videogame “Grand Theft Auto,” and he eludes Pope’s henchmen. The villains their crash their cars. The gags are funny, but not as inventive as those in “Ride Along.” When they meet the hacker at a public beach, he refuses to join them. Instead, he sends Ben to a garbage can and tells him to eat some half-gnawed nachos. A.J. assures Ben that he wanted to make sure that Pope’s ruthless gunmen hadn’t shadowed them. Later, our heroes sneak into a party at Pope’s mansion to hack into his computer with help from A.J. When they cannot break into Pope’s office, A.J. goads Ben to venture out onto a ledge and enter the office from outside. Naturally, tyke-sized Ben topples from the ledge, lands in the lawn, and tangles with a menacing alligator prowling Pope’s estate. Of course, the hopelessly goofy Hart steals these scenes with his harebrained heroics. None of these scenes match Ben’s encounter with “Lil-P Nut” in “Ride Along.” The only new character that makes an impression is pistol-packing Maya. She flaunts ample cleavage and shuns a bullet-proof vest. She is pretty handy when it comes to exploiting a suspect’s pressure points with her bare hands. Altogether, “Ride Along 2” will keep you chuckling at Hart’s antics, but he was far funnier in the first “Ride Along.”
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts