Kevin Hart’s ‘Ride Along 2’ is better than the original—but not by much

Ride Along 2 is essentially Ride Along all over again, but I would by lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the remix. Kevin Hart and Ice Cube are back, and this time the self-proclaimed “brothers in law” (get it?) are taking their crime-fighting skills to the streets of Miami in order to stop an international smuggling ring. The recipe is the same, but the results are slightly better, which more than you can say about most sequels.

Not much time has passed since the events of the original Ride Along when the new film begins. James Payton (Ice Cube) is still a detective for the Atlanta PD and Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) is still a rookie lawman hoping to prove himself, only now he has a chip on his shoulder because of what happened in the last movie. Ben will soon marry James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), but he hopes to become a full-fledged police officer before that happens, if only he can stop getting in his own way. James has no desire to help Ben, especially after their last outing together ended in numerous gunfights and explosions, but at the request of his sister James decides to allow Ben to join him on an assignment in Miami.

Once in Florida, James and Ben set to uncover the head of an illegal shipping operation that is pumping guns and drugs into the United States. They are joined by a local female detective, Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn), as well as a cybercriminal-turned-informant (Ken Jeong). Together, the group tries their best to keep their cover, but more often than not they wind up fighting with bad guys in nightclubs, shipping yards or during high-speed chases through city streets. It’s the same buddy-cop formula we saw last time, which was admittedly only a slight twist on the Lethal Weapon blueprint, but thanks to a variety of truly funny bits and gags, the story never feels too familiar for its own good. You pretty much know where things will go from the beginning of the film, but you don’t care because the journey is far more enjoyable than you remember.

The pairing of Cube and Hart works better this time around, but I believe that is more the result of a better script than anything either actor may have changed about their delivery. Cube is still the straight man while Hart remains crazy, but unlike the first film there are negative consequences for every misstep, which forces both characters to evolve over the course of the story. Ben and James may be just as you remember them at the top of the film, but by the end they have grown into better versions of themselves, and all of that is owed directly to the events found within the story itself. This sequel makes a very clear decision to force characters to adapt to new situations from very early on, but it never becomes heavy-handed with its execution. The changes feel natural, albeit resulting from somewhat unique circumstances, and that adds a layer of realness to the entire affair that improves the overall quality of the movie.

Another contributing factor to success of this film is its supporting cast, which is lead by an incredibly fierce turn from Olivia Munn. The former Newsroom regular proved her comedic talent back when G4 was still an active TV network, but she hasn’t had much success with comedy on the big screen until now (unless you count Deliver Us From Evil, which was unintentionally hilarious). Munn brings a much needed counter-balance to Cube and James that also provides new avenues to humor that weren’t found in the first film. This is largely due to the fact her character might as well be the audience, as she has no choice other than to observe the ridiculous nature of Ben and James working together, but unlike the viewer Munn actually has to deal with the repercussions of their behavior. This leads to frustrating, but often very funny, incidents that keep the film chugging along.

Where Ride Along 2 falls short is in the execution of its main story. While I appreciate the desire to solve a crime while also having a good time, there are at least three instances in the story where the only explanation for things working out is a convenient twist of fate. Maybe a character remembers something useful that they have no reason to know, or perhaps someone accidentally reveals a much-needed detail that leads to bigger reveal, but whatever the case it’s painfully clear that James and Ben rely almost entirely on luck to do their jobs. One could argue the crime doesn’t matter nearly as much as the camaraderie between characters, especially in a comedy such as this, but the underwhelming plot does leave something to be desired. It’s as if the central story was an afterthought developed only after the idea for a sequel set in Miami was sold, and a result you never have much, if any, reason to care if the story is resolved.

While I shudder at the idea of having to spend another two hours watching Cube and Hart bicker about the same things for the third time, Ride Along 2 does make a strong argument for keeping their characters around for many years to come. This franchise may not be the smartest or most original in comedy history, but the bond between the leads is good enough to distract you from any shortcomings you may find nine times out of 10. When you do see cracks in the veneer—which usually appear when the film tries to be serious—just remember that more gags are on the way. Some jokes fall flat, but most work to some degree, and that is more than I can say for the vast majority of comedy sequels. I do not want more Ride Along films, nor do I think the stars should waste their time on a quickly drying well of ideas, but as long as the quality continues to improve with each new chapter I believe there will always be an audience for this crime-fighting duo.