Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following up their lacklustre 2014 action-comedy with a film that's even lazier. While the first one at least had a sense of pacing, with humour that sometimes tipped from idiotic to mildly funny, this movie wastes its cast and premise on a series of witless action sequences, dopey slapstick and contrived relational touches. It's only watchable because Hart is able to make the most undemanding audience members chuckle now and then.
After proving that his video-gaming skills were useful in police work, Ben (Hart) has completed police academy and is working as a rookie, shadowing tough-guy detective James (Cube), whose sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) is marrying Ben in just a week. But before that happens, James and Ben head to Miami to follow a lead in a drug case they're working on. Alongside local tough-girl detective Maya (Olivia Munn), they track down a hacker (Ken Jeong) who has proof that local philanthropist Antonio (Benjamin Bratt) is actually a notorious global black market dealer. To prove that, they have to dive into a series of car and boat chases, plus heists and shootouts that never seem to go the way anyone expects.
The underlying story is exactly the same as the first film: James is trying to prove that Ben is an idiot, while he is actually softening James' rough edges. The difference here is that they know each other a bit better, so are more effective at getting under each others' skin. This means that they're even less likeable than before, and even Hart's non-stop comical chatter is more annoying than it is amusing. There are moments when Hart adds a tiny detail that elicits a smile from viewers, and some of his physical antics are so ridiculous that it's difficult not to giggle, but most of that is simply because it's unbelievable that the filmmakers thought any of this was genuinely funny.
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This biopic gallops through the career of groundbreaking gangsta rappers N.W.A, working its way through a checklist of the major events. There isn't much of a plot otherwise, which can be bewildering for anyone who doesn't know all of the people portrayed on-screen. But the acting and filmmaking is confident, which makes the movie feel strikingly relevant.
It opens in late-1980s South Central Los Angeles, a time when rap was dismissed as a little more than a violent chant. But artist Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) launches Ruthless Records with his manager Jerry Hiller (Paul Giamatti) as a way to promote the music he makes with his friends Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). Working together as N.W.A, their album Straight Outta Compton strikes a nerve, selling millions even though its controversial lyrics make it impossible to play on the radio. As money starts rolling in, problems develop in the group. Cube is annoyed that Jerry isn't paying him a fair share of the royalties, so he goes solo. And later Dre also leaves to start his own label, Death Row, with hothead friend Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor).
The movie is structured as a series of set-pieces, usually drawing on the musician's camaraderie, which turns into rivalry, sparking tensions and some sort of verbal or musical battle, which escalates into physical violence. These are alpha-males who don't like being told what to do, so they struggle to trust each other. Their clashes begin to feel somewhat repetitive, but the actors are excellent.
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There's a decent premise to this action-comedy, but the filmmakers can't be bothered to put in the effort to actually make it funny or exciting. Instead, they sit back and hope that the fast-talking Kevin Hart holds our interest. Thankfully, he's quite a lot of fun to watch, creating a likeable character out of an utter moron and generating a few good laughs along the way as he bounces off the other characters.
Hart plays Ben, a videogame addict who wants to spin his career as a school guard into a place at the Atlanta Police Academy. His sexy fiancee Angela (Sumpter) has a brother, James (Cube), who's an undercover detective and wants Ben to prove himself worthy of his sister. So he takes Ben on a ride-along, which he and his partners (Leguizamo and Callen) set up as a series of humiliations. Then Ben inadvertently discovers a few clues in their ongoing case to find mythical arms dealer Omar (Fishburne). And what started as a joke becomes rather a lot more explosive.
Yes, the film is packed with the usual fiery explosions and massive car chases punctuated by Hart's non-stop comedy patter. Ben is the standard cocky, annoying idiot who we know will become someone completely different by the end of the movie (see Beverly Hills Cop, Rush Hour, The Heat, et al). But this allows us to engage with Hart from the beginning, and he finds some sharp humour along the way. Cube, on the other hand, never remotely convinces as a hardened cop; we know he's a big softy. And poor Sumpter, virtually the only female on-screen, struggles to add spice to a thankless role that plays out exactly as the formula demands.
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This season's no different as we take the "field" for The Longshots. The film is inspired by the true story of Jasmine Plummer who, at age 11, became the first female to play for a Pop Warner football team. With Plummer at quarterback, the Harvey Colts of Illinois reached the 2003 national championships in Miami, Florida.
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Often vilified as one of the worst films ever made, Are We Done Yet? is far better than its pedigree would suggest. Mining the home improvement milieu has been done before, and if you've seen The Money Pit you know exactly what's going to happen here. Nick and co. will move into what looks like a dream house, but it will fall apart before their very eyes. A group of incompetant repairmen and contractors will attempt to save it. Nick will have a lot of drywall fall on his head. And the stress will cause much marital strife. The "original" spin here vs. The Money Pit: Suzanne is pregnant.
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That's a bad pun, but it's better than anything in this movie. The only thing keeping Benjamins on its own stylistic level is the graphic violence. In fact, it's so violent at times, it is hard to tell if this movie is a trying to be a comedy or an action flick. It isn't exactly a riot watching people manipulating a man's severed arm as he screams for pain and mercy. Does the movie really think this is funny? Is it trying to be funny? Does anyone involved even know the answers to these questions?
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The awfulness of this movie is boundless. The scatological humor in the movie is already legendary, offering the big three: farting, peeing, and puking. The underage heroes are so reprehensible, I was nearly overcome with joy when they discovered their beloved father with another woman. Cube's character seeks counsel from a talking Satchel Paige bobble head, which is, well... adjectives fail me.
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Because movies are filmed months in advance, though, the topics tackled in the barbershop's open forum are dated. Rants regarding the D.C. sniper and Bill Clinton might have fit better in the first film, which came out two years ago. The old material eventually gives way to new challenges for barbershop owner Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) and his faithful crew of haircutters.
Continue reading: Barbershop 2: Back In Business Review
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