Applying the scruffy, slacker mood of "Friday" to a caper plot that seems downloaded from Elmore Leonard's out basket seems presumptuous at best. Yet "All About the Benjamins" shows this blend can go down more smoothly than one would have imagined. Granted, its dark-edged crime-caper plot is so formulaic it seems almost ritualized. Yet Ice Cube and Mike Epps enact their standard odd-couple tango with such ease and brio, you'd think they'd never seen such movies before. A lot of generic thrillers could profit from their easy-does-it byplay.
Scowling as implacably as ever, Ice Cube is Bucum (as in "book 'em") Jackson, a skip tracer for a lowlife Miami bail-bonds outfit, whose ruthless efficiency in rounding up parole violators and other lowlifes goes unappreciated by his boss. He'd love to set up his own private-investigations company, but nothing short of a lottery win will get him enough Benjamins (yes, we're talking hundreds) to pull it off.
Meanwhile, con man Reggie Wright (Epps), who's high on Bucum's to-do list, has actually won the $6-million lottery jackpot. But the winning ticket is in his wallet. And the wallet is in the back of a van used by a brother-sister tandem (Carmen Chaplin, Roger Guenveur Smith) in a bloody diamond heist. Of course, Reggie wouldn't have even stowed away in the van if Bucum hadn't chased him into the alley. And the diamonds turned out to be fake. But, for the moment, all that's beside the point because the killers and their wealthy boss (Tommy Flanagan) want Reggie dead and the real diamonds recovered.
The dots are all but connected in this script by Ice Cube and Ron Lang. Along the way, there's a lot of brutal action that seems more compatible with Mickey Spillane than with Leonard. But the two leads ease both the predictability and the gore. Although his glower may seem have a patent-pending label by now, Ice Cube shows greater confidence and flexibility as a leading man. His comic timing, though not as precise as it could be, is adjusting nicely to the demands of mainstream genre.
Epps' motor-mouth persona has drawn obvious--read: "lazy"--comparisons with Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx, Martin Lawrence and, of course, early Eddie Murphy. But while cheap laughs are all alike, motor-mouth comic actors are alike in different ways. With Epps, there's a street-level vulnerability to his shtick that just doesn't materialize on Tucker's super-slick hard drive. Unlike most Murphy clones, Epps often talks as if most of his jokes and insults were picked up from real life instead of the TV set. His fizz is a natural contrast to Ice Cube's sourness, yet he could, with time, become his own best foil.
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language and brief sexuality. Times guidelines: not for younger teens.
'All About the Benjamins'
Ice Cube...Bucum Jackson
Mike Epps...Reggie Wright
Tommy Flanagan...Robert Williamson
New Line Cinema presents a Cube Vision production, released by New Line. Director Kevin Bray. Producer Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez. Executive producers Toby Emmerich, Matt Moore, Claire Rudnick Polstein, Ronald Lang. Screenplay by Ronald Lang and Ice Cube. Cinematographer Glen MacPherson. Editor Suzanne Hines. Costume designer Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell. Music John Murphy. Production designer J. Mark Harrington. Set decorator Barbara Peterson. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In general release.