All About the Benjamins
2002, R, 100 min. Directed by Kevin Bray. Starring Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Valerie Rae Miller, Eva Mendes, Roger Guenveur Smith, Tommy Flanagan.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., March 15, 2002
The ESPN SportsCenterization of action cinema continues apace with All About the Benjamins. My point: Modern actioners increasingly resemble sports highlights shows in their pandering to the Phallo-American community's love of spectacular payoff moments and wise-ass banter at the expense of context and dramatic sense. Not that guy movies in the post-48HRS. era haven't always gone heavy on the rude banter, vehicular mayhem and cheek-flapping 'splosions. Still, this latest acting and writing effort from gangsta rapper emeritus Ice Cube (Friday, Boyz N the Hood, Three Kings) represents the latest extreme in this reductive trend. For the most part, AATB is another slice off the increasingly stale buddy-pic loaf that also yielded Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Midnight Run, the aforementioned 48HRS., and countless others of the type. Filling the surly, perpetually aggrieved straight man slot is Cube as lowlife Miami bounty hunter Bucum. Epps plays petty hood Reggie, the inevitable babbling loose-cannon sidekick with whom Bucum is paired via a cockamamie setup involving vicious Scottish jewel thieves who've accidentally come into possession of a lost wallet containing Reggie's $60 million winning lottery ticket. Once these generic parts have been snapped into place, all that remains is to sit back and watch the machine run. As a gesture of generous-spiritedness I'll concede that Epps (Next Friday, How High) is one of the more interesting stewards of the Eddie Murphy/Jamie Fox/Chris Tucker wack-job sidekick tradition. Unlike Tucker in particular, he comes across as someone who might conceivably exist outside a Hollywood movie. His manic, expletive-laced ranting and riffing often has a naturalistic awkwardness and off-the-cuff feel, with punchlines feeling like something an improv comic might triumphantly pull out of his hat after a unexpected flash of inspiration. Some of the secondary characters, particularly Mendes and Miller as Reggie and Bucum's girlfriends, and Smith (He Got Game, Summer of Sam) juice up their pat roles with interesting personality quirks or sheer vital force. And first-time director Bray, good music video director that he is (Brandy, the Fugees, Savage Garden), takes the Miami beachfront locale and delivers the expected slam dunk of visual luxuriance backed by a snaky, relentless hip-hop soundtrack. But at some point the sheer random disconnectedness of the obligatory chase scenes, beatings, and shootouts -- most of which could be reshuffled in any order with no effect on comprehension -- begins to register as downright insulting. The unnecessary nastiness, even sadism, of much of the violence also bears mentioning if you're expecting more of the benignly cartoonish silliness of Cube's lone directing effort, The Players Club. When day's done, though, I'll answer the prospective consumer's ultimate question with another question: If Bray, Cube, and Co. don't care (and all available evidence suggests that they don't), why should you care? Still, I have to admit, I did enjoy watching Anthony Michael Hall take the Taser in the cojones. Unworthy, I know, but there you are.