1998, R, 90 min. Directed by Millicent Shelton. Starring Malik Yoba, Melissa De Sousa, John Witherspoon, Fredro Starr, Cedric The Entertainer, Kellie Williams, Sticky Fingaz, Idalis De Leon, Downtown Julie Brown.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 3, 1998

The dumbing-down of African-American film comedies is part and parcel of the lowest-common-denominator factor in comedies of all stripes. But this debut effort from former video director Shelton and the Hudlin Brothers (House Party, Boomerang, Bebe's Kids) as producers is scraping the bottom of the barrel, both in terms of laughs and originality. The film's featherweight storyline -- budding Harlem rappers and assorted wannabes are packed off on a ramshackle bus to work on a Luther Campbell (2 Live Crew) video down in Miami -- is weak at best, and unwatchable at worst. Think Spike Lee's Get on the Bus made for the Puffy/Onyx set with wacky comic dialogue by a two-year-old weaned on Death Row Records, and you'll get the idea. De Sousa plays Leta Evans, an aspiring film director and recent graduate of the NYU film program who nails the thankless job as an intern to egotistical label head Bleau Kelly (D'town Brown). The next day, Evans finds herself in charge of a motley crew of gangsta thugs and horny teens going southbound to “hit the big time.” Along for the ride are Yoba's Poppa, the group's parental figure and all-around swell guy in the 'hood; Brotha (Fingaz), a ladies man with too many ladies; Indigo (Guy Torry), who's just ripped off the cantankerous, Mouseketeer-coifed Peaches (The Lady of Rage); and longtime Hudlin Brothers' player Witherspoon and co-conspirator Cedric as the older-but-dumber bus drivers. From New York to Miami, the gags just keep flowing, but that's not comedy I'm talking about. Ride's sophomoric preoccupation with jokes revolving around the bus' broken down commode, flatulence, and the like is enough to put anyone off his dinner, but there's obviously a market for this sort of inanity -- some recent Eddie Murphy vehicles have proven to be goldmines for the scatologically inclined. The most fun Ride has to offer is a sporadic sort of “Spot that Rapper” game; the film has cameos by everyone from venerable MTV icons Dr. Dre and Ed Lover to VJ Idalis, and from Redman to none other than Snoop Doggy Dogg himself (who, as always, turns in a very credible performance as a mellower-than-thou Florida rapper with the languid, slow-burning stylings of a soggy spliff). Shelton keeps her camera moving about, but since most of the film takes place on a cramped bus, there's not much to do except sit back and let the woefully bad jokes flow over you like some sort of comic slurry. Saving grace? The soundtrack, which features killer tracks from Onyx, Nas, Black Caesar, Naughty by Nature, Al Green, and the Notorious B.I.G. But honestly, that's about it.

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Ride, Millicent Shelton, Malik Yoba, Melissa De Sousa, John Witherspoon, Fredro Starr, Cedric The Entertainer, Kellie Williams, Sticky Fingaz, Idalis De Leon, Downtown Julie Brown

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