All About The Benjamins Movie Review

Rap music, ghetto characters, drugs, buxom young women, baggy clothes, countless variations of a certain profanity with the prefix "mother"... Such elements are all too familiar with Cube Vision, the production company owned by Matt Alvarez and Ice Cube. Next Friday was the first film from the company, this is the second, and Friday After Next (really!) -- the third installment in the series -- will be third. With so much in common with the other Friday films, it's a wonder why they just didn't call this All About the Fridays.

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?

Ice Cube stares as a Miami bounty hunter named Bucum Jackson. He dreams of opening his own private investigation firm, but for the time he is stuck working for a bail bonds company tracking down lowlifes and petty crooks. He's underpaid, self-confident, unorthodox, and misused--in other words, all the usual traits of a Hollywood bounty hunter.

Then there's small-time con man named Reggie Wright (Mike Epps), who lands himself in the center of a diamond heist after unexpectedly finding himself in the back of the getaway van driven by two heartless thieves, Ursula (Carmen Chaplin) and partner Ramose (Roger Guenveur Smith). He barely escapes with his life, but loses his wallet in the process, which just happens to carry a winning lottery ticket.

We soon find that Ursula and Ramose have made a big mistake when they provided the morgue with one too many dead people, since their multimillion-dollar fortune turns out to be fake. This doesn't set well with their boss, Williamson (Tommy Flanagan), a ruthless yacht-broker who organized the crime.

What to make of all these stories? Is this movie about a diamond heist gone awry, a cop trying to open his own firm, or a lowlife and his girlfriend? You know a movie's plate is a little too full when a winning lotto ticket ranks as a mere subplot. Actually, now I see where the title comes into play. The only thing holding the film together is money -- not really much of a rock to build upon. Most of the scenes wander aimlessly in a desperate endeavor to strike comic gold as Ice Cube and Epps ham it up... with little success.

The lead actors share no chemistry or engaging charisma. We don't even like their characters. They're loud and obnoxious--worse than Chris Tucker. Whenever they share the screen, the mood becomes awkward and embarrassing. To make matters even worse, Tommy Flanagan upstages all of the protagonists as a villain with so much sly stamina and evil zest that we end up rooting for the bad guys to win.

When I talked with Cube about the movie, he explained how he liked using first time directors because of their openness. He and Mike Epps improvised about half of their dialogue, and God only knows how much of the original story they actually followed. Cube says he has adapted this style from working on other sets. "I've seen a movie where a guy's hectic, he's yelling, he's going crazy. And I've seen a movie where a guy's kicked back. And to me, it works both ways. Both jobs got done..."

I hear Stanley Kubrick was fussy and strict. I cannot imagine the late genius giving his actors a lot of freedom to improvise, and I certainly cannot imagine him "kicking back." Let's compare his films with the movies from Cube Vision. But All About the Benjamins did "get done." I guess we have to give it credit for that...

Ripping along at 25 mph.


Comments

All About The Benjamins Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2002

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