Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are funny together. There’s not much evidence of this in Ride Along 2, wherein they reprise their buddy-cop roles of tough guy James (Cube) and his bumbling prospective brother-in-law and wannabe partner Ben (Hart)—nor even, for that matter, in the original Ride Along. But while promoting their new film, the two actors appeared together in a Conan segment where they accompanied the host on a driver’s-ed jaunt with one of his staffers. In about 10 minutes, Cube, with his scowl that can turn mischievous, and Hart, with his motormouth, convey a loose, affectionate, occasionally testy chemistry. They seem like a good team.
The Ride Along movies have far more incident than an afternoon of driving instruction, but feel far less free; they are bound by cop-movie conventions and encumbered by an apparent desire not to spoof them. While the movie’s cold open is the kind of lifeless cop-movie preamble that doesn’t feature either of the lead characters, Cube and Hart’s first scene together in Ride Along 2 sets itself up perfectly for bait-and-switch parody. It takes place at an after-hours gathering of criminals and muscle cars, and by hiring Tyrese Gibson for a cameo as Cube’s partner, the movie clearly evokes the Fast And Furious series. Ride Along 2 even comes from the same studio, which should give the movie carte blanche to goof on Vin Diesel’s passion project. But director Tim Story, who has made a career of being asked back for sequels to movies he didn’t direct particularly well (oddly, he hasn’t directed any of the sequels to his best film, Barbershop), doesn’t do spoofery. He doesn’t even do humorous imitation. The movie nods ever so slightly at the Furious movies, dispatches Tyrese, and moves on.
This would be fine if the Ride Along movies had an identity of their own. It’s kind of amazing that they don’t, given the two distinct comic personas they’re built around. Cube’s James scowls with irritation at the antics of Hart’s Ben, who has gone from wanting desperately to become a cop (in the first film) to wanting desperately to prematurely graduate from beat cop to detective. Though Ben’s desire to “prove himself” carries a lot less urgency now that he’s already a cop and all set to marry James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter), at least the movie smartly sidesteps any sense of relationship jeopardy between Ben and Angela. Their couplehood is genuinely sweet, which is why she convinces her brother to take Ben on a confidence-building police trip to Miami even though it’s the week of their wedding. (It also serves to distract Ben from wedding-planning stresses, which Hart plays with amusing sincerity.)
Beyond the slight uptick in bared skin, Miami doesn’t offer much variety from the characters’ home base of Atlanta. Ben and James are there to question hacker A.J. (Ken Jeong) about his connection to a crime ring; on their way, they team up with local cop Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn) and run afoul of a possible drug dealer (Benjamin Bratt, occasionally droll). Ride Along 2 is brisk and busy with action sequences, most of which are well outside Story’s skill set as a director. The best of them takes advantage of Hart’s physical prowess for a “foot chase” (as he repeatedly refers to it) through countless yards and houses. Story overcuts the action, but at least the scale doesn’t overwhelm him. This sequence also showcases Hart’s comic strength in a film series that otherwise miscategorizes his acuity as verbal. His manic delivery creates the impression that Hart is an expert fast-talker, but most of his chatter involves saying “James” repeatedly; as with his stand-up routines, it’s his accompanying physicality that actually gets laughs.
The movie does at least add in some other characters to prop up the half-assed bantering and bickering. Jeong plays a role previously filled by Conan O’Brien, or Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon sequels: the annoying goofball third wheel meant to enliven a familiar partnership. The perpetually hunched-over Jeong doesn’t have much of a character beyond that, but he manages some funny moments, especially when he and Hart excitedly make small talk during a stakeout, sounding like 10-year-olds at a slumber party. Olivia Munn, who has shown capable comic timing in environments both improvisational (Attack Of The Show!) and tightly scripted (The Newsroom), has less to do, presented as the female equivalent to Cube’s tough guy—though Cube never has to show up to a crime scene inexplicably dressed in a sports bra.
The implausibilities, cop-movie checkboxes, and mildly wasted talent make Ride Along 2 lazy, but not downright loathsome. If anything, it’s perhaps slightly more amusing and agreeable than the original—a sign of how little that film’s seemingly surefire premise wound up mattering. The sequel, meanwhile, functions as an object lesson in the way the mildest likability can convince actors and filmmakers that they’re doing something right. Hart and Cube probably had chemistry on set, and assumed it would translate into big laughs onscreen. Ride Along 3 probably won’t be very good, but the Conan segment that accompanies it might be fun.