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Ride Along 2 takes safe route with buddy-cop clichés

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Three decades after Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon, buddy-cop movies boil down to a science: mismatched detectives — one completely by-the-book, the other completely bonkers — partner on an investigation against a seemingly impervious adversary and discover, despite their differences, that they make a great team. The genre lurched onward with countless films trying to match Lethal Weapon’s slick formula.

With 2014’s Ride Along and its new dim clone, Ride Along 2, the lurch continues, forcing Ice Cube and Kevin Hart to follow the flowchart so precisely that it nearly qualifies as buddy-cop karaoke.

This is a sequel to a comedy that made a little over $134 million at the box office, so director Tim Story (Barbershop, Think Like a Man) takes no chances with his investment. Ride Along 2 promotes Ben Barber (Hart) from academy cadet to probationary beat cop, moves most of the action from Atlanta to Miami and brings on Ken Jeong and Oklahoma City’s Olivia Munn as sideline amusements, but other than those slight changes, it’s the same old song.

While Detective James Payton (Cube) prepares to interview a witness in a drug and gun-running operation in Miami, Barber maniacally sweats the details on his upcoming marriage to James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter), driving her to convince James to let Barber go to South Beach with him. First, they confront bikinis, hot cars and steely Detective Maya Cruz (Munn).

Then they move on to A.J. (Jeong), a programmer who works to secure accounts and communications for shipping magnate Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt).

Like Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop, there is no ambiguity about Pope’s slithery nature. Bratt plays him like a cross between The Most Interesting Man in the World and Christopher Walken’s Saturday Night Live character, The Continental, lurking behind his pocketed civic leaders at press conferences and plying women with exotic, aromatic tequila. He is, how you say, louche.

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Bratt appears to be going for real menace, but it’s hard to take him as a serious threat when he seems constantly on the brink of extolling the virtues of fine, Corinthian leather.

So, with no real threat in Ride Along 2, there are no real stakes, either. That allows Hart to mug with impunity, and make no mistake; he’s great at it. Hart takes all kinds of on-camera abuse from Cube and bounces back like a cartoon character.

Hart’s problem is that he’s almost always better than the films surrounding him. Ride Along 2 is so steeped in other, better action-comedies that its mediocrity forces him into overdrive. He gives it all in a fast-paced, fence-jumping foot chase, probably because he knows it’s a nearly shot-by-shot remake of a famous sequence from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and he doesn’t want anyone to notice.

For his part, Cube just seems bored when he isn’t busting shots off, and he’s not alone.

Munn has great comic timing when called to play someone more dimensional than an affectless jog-bra jockey. Ostensibly, her Detective Cruz exists in the film to provide an empowered female counterpoint to the sausage-fest surrounding her, but near-catatonia does not equal seriousness.

The few times Munn actually shows some of her natural charm in Ride Along 2 come as a major relief. As for Jeong, he’s always watchable as A.J., but his character is so obviously modeled on Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz from the Lethal Weapon series that it constantly points out the shameless cribbing executed by returning Ride Along screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.

On a purely commercial level, cribbing makes sense. Every little detail of Ride Along 2 either comes from its successful predecessor or from a litany of previous works that made an unfathomable amount of money for the major studios. As a result, much of Ride Along 2 is completely digestible — mainly because it comes predigested.

Since Story broke through with 2002’s Cube-starring Barbershop, he has established himself as the choice director for films that just barely get by, but with his Think Like a Man and Ride Along vehicles, he’s now entirely bankable for achieving such modest goals. His next announced film is Humbug, a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with his favorite go-to star as some kind of Ice Scrooge.

Not only is he pulling an established work from the public domain, but it’s one that dozens of sitcoms, TV movies and feature films recycled for seasonal bucks in the past.

At least with Humbug, he can be up-front about the source material; with Ride Along 2, he’s sampling tracks and hoping Shane Black doesn’t recognize his own grooves.

Print headline: Repeat Ride, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart break out borrowed lethal weaponry in Ride Along 2.

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