Tim Story’s Ride Along 2 feeds directly into my working theory that junk movies take all their chances in the first reels before settling into the tranquilizing monotony of mediocrity on the tail end. The first few set pieces of this sequel few were clamoring for feel like they came from a fake movie, or an extended but unresolved Funny or Die skit. But the longer the buddy-cop antics of soon-to-be brothers-in-law Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) and James Payton (Ice Cube) trudge mirthfully forth, the more streamlined and normalized the movie gets. Honest bad movies at least hold the possibility of carrying viewers along when they’re caught up in disbelief by what they’re witnessing. Ride Along 2, which sows its wild oats and then settle for unexceptional cinematic domestication, are content to aim for total neutrality.
Hart and Cube are, respectively, messily enthusiastic and stripped entirely of anything approaching charisma. The formula calls for yin to run circles around yang, but that only works when both players are equally committed to the scenario. Cube looks embarrassed to be caught cashing his check here, while Hart conspicuously makes it rain. As our continuing saga of mad cop/manic cop picks up, Ben is now a real-deal cop, working tangentially alongside James even though the Atlanta P.D. clearly sees him as a charity case, to be patted on the head and sent pushing pencils at the earliest opportunity. When James stumbles on a flash drive indicating that the latest pusher he’s apprehended might be attached to something far larger in scope going down in Miami, his sister, who’s improbably engaged to Ben, begs James to take his future brother-in-law with him to crack the case, but be back by the end of the week for the wedding. Because that’s how quickly and safely multi-billion-dollar crime rings are typically brought down.
Ride Along 2’s frontloaded structure provides exactly one reflexively enjoyable action sequence. As Ben and James wind up pursued by assertive hitmen in a Miami Beach car chase, Ben draws on his extensive reserve of Xbox reflexes, visualizing their entire dash as a mission sequence from a Grand Theft Auto-style game, up to and including James in the next seat over, depicted a few too many steps below Uncanny Valley. But as the pair, working in tandem with attractive and conveniently single Miami homicide detective Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn), get closer and closer to their mark, the movie seems to deliberately scale back its own stake in the action. Like any serving of junk food, Ride Along 2 seems engineered to give you that initial rush of satisfaction, but leaves you in a dead zone where the only thing you want is more of the same.