Rapper turned filmmaker Ice Cube delivers his finest testosterone-laced performance since "Three Kings" in "All About the Benjamins," a buddy action flick involving a botched diamond heist and a lottery ticket.
Cinematic sparks are struck as Cube's freelance bounty hunter, Bucum Jackson, displays an icy grimace and cocky swagger, while flimflam partner Mike Epps offers comic relief as small-time con artist Reggie Wright.
When Wright jumps bail (again) and Jackson chases him into a diamond deal gone wrong, both of them are shot at, and Wright's wallet, which contains a $60 million winning lottery ticket, ends up in the hands of the bad guys.
Unfortunately, the home-run performances of Cube and Epps are handicapped by inept and illogical action sequences.
During the obligatory car chase, Cube and Co. get shot at with a rocket launcher - only to have the shooter and his getaway car disappear completely in the next shot. Similar silliness follows when the duo's girlfriends (Eva Mendes and Valarie Rae Miller) hop out of hiding to knock low-level muscleheads into the water. The ladies then scamper back to their hiding places, and the armed thugs never resurface. Not since Adam West's Batman "Ka-powed!" criminals in the 1960s has evil been so easily subdued.
Epps and Cube have an explosively funny on-screen chemistry, commenting on the action genre with quips like "Who do I look like? Mel Gibson?" Epps keeps the laughs rolling with his inability to fight and his topical comic rants.
Unlike the protagonists of the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, Wright and Jackson seem to get an unhealthy jolt of glee out of torturing their captured opponents. In one particularly sadistic scene - though it's played for laughs - the pair take turns tightening the bone screws on a villain's aluminum arm cast while he stands handcuffed to the shower rail.
"Gladiator's" Tommy Flanagan steps in as the thickly accented foreign baddie with a penchant for yelling and shooting his own gang. He's a carbon-copy villain, however.
Music video director Kevin Bray might have the makings of a sequel, or even a franchise, in "All About the Benjamins," because Cube and Epps are a natural pair. But next time, Bray would be better off focusing on continuity instead of cruelty.
"All About the Benjamins"
Directed by Kevin Bray; screenplay Ronald Lang and Ice Cube; produced by Ice Cube and Matt Alvarez; photographed by Glen MacPherson; edited by Suzanne Hines; production design by J. Mark Harrington. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday, March 8. Running time: 1:30. MPAA rating: R (strong violence, pervasive language and brief sexuality). Bucum Jackson - Ice Cube
Reggie Wright - Mike Epps
Ursula - Carmen Chaplin
Ramose - Roger Guenveur Smith
Williamson - Tommy Flanagan Gina - Eva Mendes
Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times