Kevin Hart and Ice Cube promoted “Ride Along 2” on a recent Conan O’Brien show, tagging along as the host helped a young staffer prepare for her driving test.
This nine-minute segment now plastered all over the Internet showcases the stars’ genuine camaraderie and proves funnier than anything to be found in the new sequel. And unlike the movie, it thankfully doesn’t end in a succession of car wrecks.
“Ride Along 2” never messes with the formula that turned the 2014 action comedy into a $150 million box-office hit. It’s still a buddy-cop flick capitalizing on the odd-couple pairing of motor-mouthed comedian Hart and laconic rapper Cube. If only the obvious increase in budget (explosions everywhere!) could have purchased more humor.
In this go-round, Atlanta security guard Ben (Hart) has earned a promotion to a provisional beat cop. He’s also in the homestretch of planning a wedding to Angela (the distractingly-out-of-his-league Tika Sumpter), whose detective brother James (Cube) is still iffy about the relationship. Hoping to prove his worth to the prospective brother-in-law, Ben persuades James to bring him on an investigative trip to Miami to track a smuggling ring — or something like that.
Whereas the leads’ yin-yang dynamic bolstered the original into a passable time-waster, the charm diminishes in this installment. Hart delivers every line as if he’s frantically trying to delay his own execution; Cube speaks with only deliberate, terse scolding, like he’s clarifying a request to Siri.
Perhaps that’s why the film’s strongest moments come from two newcomers to the franchise. Ken Jeong (“The Hangover”) plays a hacker who ripped off a Miami drug kingpin (Benjamin Bratt).
The normally manic Jeong tones down his aggression to play a more fearful flake (think Joe Pesci in the “Lethal Weapon” series). He dispenses the best throwaway lines, such as when he’s introduced to the officers after a lengthy foot pursuit and mistakes the diminutive Hart for Cube’s son. (Why this exchange gets scored to the dated groove of Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga” remains a mystery.)
Bratt also takes a subtler approach to the villain role: more magnetism than menace. It’s amusing how he delivers a speech about taking over the ports so he can import “guns, drugs, whale meat … whatever.”
Conversely, Olivia Munn (“Magic Mike”) portrays a homicide detective who partners with the heroes, yet she’s stripped of any hint of the quirky appeal she brings to most roles. What a missed opportunity to feature a character not just relegated to eye candy.
One key sequence orchestrated by returning director Tim Story also hints at what the film could have been. A recurring gag shows Ben’s obsession with violent first-person video games he plays under the screen name Black Hammer. He eventually finds himself in an actual high-stakes car chase, shown as if he’s playing “Grand Theft Auto.” A running score, the car’s mph and an overhead map of the city streets border the frame as he eludes animated bad guys.
The noisy end shootout should have continued the gag. Why not “Call of Duty”?
Just one of many questions that can be asked about “Ride Along 2,” a cinematic cash-grab content merely to coast on its past success.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.
‘Ride Along 2’
Rated PG-13. Time: 1:42.