Sometimes I go back and re-read my old movie reviews to see how I've progressed as a reviewer, to learn what I can do better or to make updates. It's an especially useful exercise when I'm reviewing the sequel to a movie that I reviewed earlier, and now I've been writing full-length reviews long enough that I have that opportunity more often. When I re-read a review, sometimes I realize that I could've done a better job, and other times I find that I hit the nail on the head the first time. This is one of those times.
Exactly two years to the day after I saw the cop comedy "Ride Along", I saw "Ride Along 2" (PG-13, 1:41). In my 2014 review, I complained that the original featured a Kevin Hart who was doing little more than "trying to update (Eddie) Murphy's signature high-pitched, motor-mouthed, role-playing Axel Foley character". Hart does the same thing in this movie – and the script (written by two of the four guys who wrote the original) goes even further into "Beverly Hills Cop" territory by taking a police detective (Ice Cube's character) from his home base to a seaside resort location where he partners with local cops and finds himself pursuing a drug dealer who is masquerading as a pillar of the community. The main difference is, in "Ride Along 2", we get two cops taking that road trip – one doing the real detecting – and one providing the comic relief. Eddie Murphy did both in his BHC movies, but the division of labor in "Ride Along 2" works a bit better than it did in its predecessor (unlike the case of "Beverly Hills Cop 2").
This film picks up about a year after the last one left off with former high school security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) itching to become a real cop, while planning on marrying Angela (Tika Sumpter), the sister of hard-nosed Atlanta detective James Payton (Ice Cube). As the sequel begins, Ben has successfully joined the APD, but is still in his probationary period. He is deep into planning his wedding to Angela, with the help of aggressive and stubborn wedding planner Sherri Shepherd, with whom he clashes as he's more involved in the wedding preparations than most guys would be. James is working with Ben on actual cases, but doesn't think Ben is up to advancing to the rank of detective.
When James comes up with a lead that ties an Atlanta drug dealer to a Miami computer hacker called AJ (Ken Jeong), Angela talks James into letting Ben ride along too – both to get him out of her hair one week before the wedding – and so Ben can try, once and for all, to show James what he can do as a cop. As they check in with the local Miami police, they meet tough homicide detective Maya (Olivia Munn) who ends up working with them as they pursue their leads. James and Ben catch up with the nerdy AJ who has information pointing to Miami businessman Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt) as a drug kingpin.
Even though Hart seems to be copying the Eddie Murphy template as the movie places it back into the "Beverly Hills Cop" formula doesn't mean "Ride Along 2" doesn't have its moments. Ben is still pretty manic in his approach to policing, but he's more of a threat to himself than he is to society, and James is still highly skeptical of Ben's potential, but they do start to jell a little this time around. They both have the ability to make us laugh (as does Jeong), but many of the jokes and gags still fall flat. Ben's obsession with video games is well-used as part of the plot and in a great sight gag, but the movie's plot points feel very contrived and as if they only exist to get us from one semi-humorous moment to the next. The sequel's bigger budget gives us more explosions and miscellaneous mayhem, but the characterizations beyond the lead characters are one-dimensional. In its opening night, "Ride Along 2" did slightly better than its predecessor and I'm giving this sequel a grade that matches that accomplishment. I deemed 2014's "Ride Along" as worthy of a "C+", slightly below what I consider "recommendation land". "Ride Along 2" gets a "B" – a mild recommendation. At this rate, I may be raving about this franchise by the time we get to "Ride Along 4"... or not. Time will tell.
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