Ride Along 2

Ride Along 2 movie poster

Release: Friday, January 15, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Phil Hay; Matt Manfredi

Directed by: Tim Story

Kevin Hart and Ice Cube are black in action in Ride Along 2, the sequel that very few people asked for but ended up getting anyway.

The fact that Tim Story (the guy behind the Fantastic Four movies — no, not the re- re- re- re- re-make that pissed everyone off) bothered to follow-up from his 2014 buddy-cop comedy doesn’t exactly advertise him as the most original of directors we have at our disposal right now. Considering how many of the trailers — I’d say at least half of them — that preceded the feature tonight were about Kevin Hart shopping for a new comedic partner (Dwayne Johnson is probably the most compelling), Ride Along 2 seems even more superfluous.

The film finds wannabe cop Ben Barber (Hart) begging to travel to Miami with his “partner” James to prove himself worthy of becoming a detective, despite the fact everyone on the Atlanta police force assumes he just got lucky last time cracking the case. Ben is soon going to be marrying James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) and he believes putting himself once more in harm’s way will be the key to impressing his future in-law.

Ride Along 2‘s premise is as generic as generic gets. Seriously. I’ve seen store-brand boxes of Corn Flakes that were more inspiring. And the formula hasn’t changed from the last time we saw the pair galavanting around on screen. It almost doesn’t require any breaking down, but if I must: James has been trying to penetrate a notorious drug-ring based out of Miami, one headed up by a man named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt) who maintains a good relationship with the public making all kinds of gracious donations to causes not worth mentioning here.

James needs to put together a team in order to track him down and bring him to justice. That’s when they come across a no-nonsense homicide investigator named Maya (Olivia Munn). They also acquire a valuable asset in the form of Ken Jeong’s computer hacker A.J., who was witness to a nasty little murder Pope committed in Miami over a dispute about some misplaced cash. Despite having extra help this time, it’s still going to take significant lobbying on James’ part to convince his higher-ups they should stay on the case, even after they partly botch the mission.

Ride Along 2 is a real underachiever, making no effort to provide a compelling crime story or one that’s even vaguely believable. It’s a problem solved far too easily and the only real thing that’s ever at stake is Ben’s impending nuptials. And yet, for everything that it is and everything that it’s not this is an entertaining escape. Ice Cube and Hart still have great chemistry, and Munn and Jeong are welcomed additions. Especially effective is Munn, who isn’t just eye candy; she employs a wry sense of humor to counter Hart’s spastic energy. Jeong dials back the inanity of his schtick and the movie is all the better for it.

Recycled material, overly familiar antics and excessive silliness aside, Ride Along 2 is a predictable experience but it’s not a product totally devoid of value. Bring the pizza and the beer, maybe even to the theater.

. . .as if I wasn't going to use this photo. (and hey, I'm being consistent, too)

. . .as if I wasn’t going to use this photo. (and hey, I’m being consistent, too)

Recommendation: As far as comedy sequels go, Ride Along 2 is in good company: it’s uninspired and unoriginal but for those who latched onto the comedic duo in the first installment, this will get the job done well enough. I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I wouldn’t balk if and when Ride Along 3 is announced.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “My nerves is bad, man! OOOOOOH my God! Here, zombie!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.dailymotion.com

Straight Outta Compton

Release: Friday, August 14, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Herman; Andrea Berloff

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

F. Gary Gray’s first directorial outing in six years debuted last weekend to the most successful opening for a musical biopic in cinematic history. Ignoring the 20 years that have elapsed since the tragic passing of N.W.A founder Eazy-E the occasion might not seem auspicious, but for anyone who has been keeping track they would hardly describe the film’s release as straight out of nowhere.

It probably would help make an already solid production even more absorbing if I weren’t so ignorant to the history and culture this iconic group were simultaneously being molded by and molding themselves. To me, Gray’s latest seemed like a random and trivial release. That’s why it has taken me a week to get to it. And though it still feels more random than commemorative there’s very little about its raw power and dynamic beat that feels trivial. Straight Outta Compton is a very good film, made so by the fact that you don’t need to dig hip hop to appreciate the gravity of this story.

Its total run time of two and a half hours at first seems daunting — ultimately it is a little too long — but the number of scenes in which checking one’s phone is tempting is kept to a surprising minimum. Like N.W.A in the prime of their hard-hitting and layered lyricism, the narrative is a well-oiled machine, boasting fluid pacing, lasting momentum and confident direction. More importantly, since there will be far more than gangsta rap fans in attendance, the chronicle is straightforward and digestible, navigating the tumultuous formative years through to the crescendo of success and ending, as many musical biopics do, on a bittersweet note as the group fragments.

Compton requires a modicum of patience, particularly in the opening third where Gray takes his time developing by-now highly recognizable personalities in the form of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (played by his real-life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.). Interestingly Arabian Prince, despite having a role in the formation of the group, was deemed too much of a peripheral character to warrant inclusion. The opening sequence sees Eazy-E flirting with death during a chaotic police raid on a drug den, a nod toward an alternative future a few of these young men might have faced were it not for the forthcoming tête-à-tête shared between E and Dre in a night club, the same club in which the latter had been struggling for some time to get himself recognized as a DJ/producer.

It’s not long before the pair are able to spin an argument that will convince Cube to leave his current group, C.I.A., as well as the high-spirited DJ Yella and loyal MC Ren to offer their talents to this mix of raw, surprisingly focused talent. A rudimentary sound studio becomes quickly filled with groupies and curious listeners. And then E is approached by music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), with whom the rapper co-founds their first label, Ruthless Records. The rest, as they say, is history.

Giamatti could have been the x-factor in Compton as his celebrity status, despite his affinity for disappearing into his roles, flagged up a potential distraction. But once more he pulls a Houdini, seemingly comfortable with a striking wave of white hair and that glint in his eye that gives us pause for concern whether he is a man to be fully trusted. You can almost picture an honorary gold chain necklace draped around his neck but fortunately this is not a movie built upon stereotype or offensive fabrication (despite the real Heller’s reactions to his portrayal).

There is a caveat to that, though. Or, I guess a second. The biopic isn’t immune to all forms of stereotype; that it focuses so intensely on the group (read: the trio of E, Cube and Dre) means there are casualties of Gray’s fixations. Women — special shout-out to Felicia! — fare worse than the police, coming in droves, forming the requisite mise-en-scene once the group starts stockpiling dollar bills faster than ideas for potentially future hit singles. But given the lyrical content of much of N.W.A’s work, is the visible misogyny all that shocking?

This could be controversial, but I argue that the harmony between Compton‘s scantily clad extras and Cube’s verve for undressing and (swear-word)ing them umpteen to the dozen doesn’t quite ring alarm bells like the racial tensions that ever more define the thrust of the narrative. A well-timed insertion of footage of the Rodney King beating and subsequent fall-out inspire outrage, an outrage that strengthens our bond with these characters. If N.W.A’s personal experiences with the hostile LAPD didn’t create a united front then this disturbing news reel is the insurance Gray needed. The acquittal of the officers on obvious charges — abuse of power and excessive force, the mechanism that drove songs like ‘F**k Tha Police’ and ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ — signals a low point in the sociopolitical climate specific to the film and the decade it damns in its final act.

Compton is consistently compelling, becoming a party as quickly as it turns ugly, examining extraordinary lives in perpetual transition. While it’s not always fun to watch it is important and the three-act structure serves the material well. The voices of Compton needed more microphones, a bigger stage. In Gray’s testament to the power of music they get both.

Recommendation: Straight Outta Compton is a very well-acted and confidently directed tale that serves its unique subject well. It’s a testament to the quality of Gray’s direction that it remains a highly involving story even when knowing next to none of the lyrics that have popularized N.W.A since 1986. I highly recommend giving this a watch on the big screen as these personalities, as influential as they have been, somehow feel even larger than life in this format.

Rated: R

Running Time: 147 mins.

Quoted: “Speak a little truth and people lose their minds.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Ride Along

Ride-Along-Movie-Posters

Release: Friday, January 17, 2014

[Theater]

It’s official. Kevin Hart is the black Chris Farley. Er, well. . .he’s certainly trying.

His new comedy vehicle sees him performing at a spasmodic level not seen since cocaine was readily available in the 80s. I mean, damn dude, someone give this guy a beta blocker before he strokes out! Bless his little fast-beating heart, he is more than welcome to try and imitate the great SNL star, just as long as he makes a promise to not go out in the same way as Farley. . .

The jokester, standing all of five-foot-four, is a storm of energy and quick wit in Ride Along, and while the laughs he extracts from audiences may not quite approach the painful levels of his Philadelphian peers like Dave Chapelle or Eddie Murphy, he turns this incredibly bland buddy-cop adventure into an enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment. There’s not much to chatter about excitedly afterwards, yet for the lack of creativity on display there’s no harm done in the process. Unless, of course, you take exception to the mental images of Kevin Hart and his black hammer. Ew.

Ben (Hart) is waiting for the right moment to ask James (Ice Cube) for his blessing in taking his sister’s hand in marriage. The two haven’t exactly been getting along ever since Ben apparently damn near barbecued his potential brother-in-law alive at a family gathering awhile back. But because he failed to melt Ice Cube’s cold heart over a charcoal grill, Ben sets out on a mission to prove himself worthy of James’ respect. So he enrolls in the Atlanta police academy, with the goal of becoming a lieutenant on his horizon.

Oh man, can you imagine?

One thing that actually isn’t difficult to imagine is the fact that the camera gravitates toward Hart for most of the duration, despite some other big names present as well, such as Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill and, yes, the aforementioned Barbershop star. Because James reluctantly agrees to take this obnoxious motor-mouth on a “ride along” with him, Ben finds all sorts of ways to become an obstacle more than a useful partner, and more importantly, a man worthy of Angela (Tika Sumpter)’s love. James is attempting to track down the whereabouts of a notorious criminal named Omar (Fishburne), much to the annoyance of his superior, Lt. Brooks (McGill), who doesn’t approve of this hot-shot officer’s renegade tactics. Wherever these two go, the camera can’t help but get stuck on Hart’s frenetic energy and perpetually rubberized facial expressions.

However, when it moves away from Hart and reveals other bits and pieces of this loosely-assembled plot, the problems stack up quicker than Hart’s feathery frame getting blown sideways against a wall at the firing range.

Ride Along simply insists on being a very brainless exercise as director Tim Story seems comfortable with his usual formula (you need not know much more than the fact he directed Fantastic Four and Think Like a Man to realize he’s a pretty uninspired filmmaker). In this case, he maps out the Atlanta area in a simplistic blueprint, leading us by the hand from point A to point B, tossing in jokes wherever and whenever possible. As it so happens, this is arguably the only fault in Hart’s presence: at times he gets a bit irritating with the sheer number of his faux-Farley freakouts. The supporting roles barely are worth mentioning, although it is quite chuckle-worthy to see Morpheus talking all gangsta-like in his role as the big baddie.

Despite the film’s underachieving status, extra points are still going to be awarded here because Ride Along makes the best of the chemistry between Ice Cube and the world’s funniest short man. If that’s not enough for you to call shotgun on this joy ride, then. . .well, you can just ride in the backseat. Party pooper.

ride-along-movie-poster-8

Legit gamer.

2-5Recommendation: Ride Along fails and it doesn’t. The audience it plays up to should be perfectly satisfied with the results — as evidenced by the drastic difference between critical and audience reviews on the big aggregate sites like RT and IMDb. Feel free to select this one if you’re keen on shutting down your brain, stuffing some popcorn down the hatch and laughing like a hyena at a few scenes featuring Hart doing his thing. Oh yeah, and there’s just a killer hot girl in it. The damsel in distress thing should really draw in a crowd. Boom.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Thank you, ass-face.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com