2014’s buddy action-comedy hit Ride Along wasn’t a particularly good film, but it had two things going for it. First, its set-up was solid, if uninspired — tough Atlanta cop Ice Cube drags along mouthy wannabe Kevin Hart, who also happens to be his beloved sister’s boyfriend, on a day of answering police calls, in order to scare him away from both the job and the girl. (The script had been kicking around Hollywood for a decade or so.) Second, it had diminutive, walking dynamo Kevin Hart, whose motormouth antics regularly provide many undeserving films with welcome bursts of energy. Ride Along 2, which picks up not long after the first film ended, doesn’t mess much with the formula, except that everything feels more frayed and tired this time around.
Now, Ben Barber (Hart) is an actual police rookie, and his impending nuptials to Angela (Tika Sumpter, given distressingly little to do this time around) are drawing near. Angela’s veteran-cop brother James (Cube) is still irritated by Ben’s antics, and when the duo head to Miami to help bring down Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt, having more fun than anyone else, it seems), a drug kingpin posing as a philanthropist, James decides once again to try and do away with Ben. The groom-to-be, however, is excited by the idea of having his bachelor party in Miami. But they still have the case to crack, involving a renegade hacker (Ken Jeong) who may hold the key to bringing down Pope, with beautiful local detective Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn) also along for the ride.
Bland Hollywood sequels generally suffer from a combination of two things: Let’s call them sameness and moreness. The films often feel like retreads, but they also feel artificially scaled up — in an effort to accommodate bigger budgets, bigger box-office ambitions, bigger star egos, whatever. On paper, Ride Along 2 has the more — another blustery comedian in Jeong; a bigger, more visually enticing city in Miami; more explosions, etc. — and the same — it’s still basically these two guys doing their thing. But somehow, the effect is lessened. Hart doesn’t get any real chance to cut loose with his shtick, and his underrated talent for slapstick isn’t used much either. (There is a very funny bit near the end, however, when James uses the bulletproof-vest-clad Ben as a human shield.) Surprisingly, the slack isn’t taken up by Jeong, who is given a couple of decent lines and some typical, Ken Jeong-esque weirdness, but seems to be operating mostly on auto-pilot.
The episodic nature of the first Ride Along at least allowed us to focus our attention on the two leads. Not that it did all that much with the idea — Ice Cube’s performance consisted mostly of pissy reaction shots — but the power of movie stars is such that sometimes you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth just by basking in their presence. But even that aspect of Ride Along 2 feels lessened, diluted somehow. Maybe it’s the bigger cast, or maybe it’s that nobody has anything left to prove. Cube is still his glaring, glowering, disbelieving self, but with the reduced animosity between the two leads comes a reduction in comic potential. You don’t expect much from this movie, and you definitely don’t get it. Fans of the first likely won’t mind it, but Ride Along 2 doesn’t even really give you the chance to be disappointed.