DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS (director: Kevin Bray; screenwriters: Ronald Lang/Ice Cube; cinematographer: Glen MacPherson; editor: Suzanne Hines; music: John Murphy; cast: Ice Cube (Bucum Jackson), Mike Epps (Reggie Wright), Eva Mendes (Gina), Tommy Flanagan (Robert Williamson), Valarie Rae Miller (Pam), Carmen Chaplin (Ursula), Roger Guenveur Smith (Julian), Bob Carter (Mr. Barkley), Anthony Michael Hall (Lil J), Anthony Giaimo (Martinez); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ice Cube & Matt Alvarez; New Line Cinema; 2002)

"This one is a waste of your Washingtons."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

"All About the Benjamins" is just another familiar wisecracking buddy action flick played by the genre's well-defined formulaic rules, whose chief asset is how easy the mismatched action/comedy duo act together. Otherwise, this one is a waste of your Washingtons.

The Benjamins in the title, I gather is slang for $100 bills in the hip-hop world. The film is targeted for a teen audience, and all others might find themselves underwhelmed by its slight plot line and/or disturbed by its needless vulgarities. The likable Ice Cube stars as Bucum Jackson, and he also was co-screenwriter with Ronald Lang.  He plays a self-righteous maverick, who is a money-strapped Miami bounty hunter with a reputation of getting his man but doing it in an unorthodox way with lots of gunplay. His role calls for him to be the straight man. While Mike Epps plays the comical role of Reggie Wright, the one with the endless big lip who is a longtime petty con man with a history of lying and being in the wrong place.

The movie opens with a scene that has nothing to do with the remainder of the story, but at least hints at some kind of sly humor pointed between the races that unfortunately never materializes in the rest of the film. This scene offers an adrenaline rush of gratuitous violent action, as Bucum has the drop on a redneck fugitive (Michael Hall) living in a trailer park in the Florida Everglades. Whitey is watching Bugs Bunny cartoons on the TV and his wall is draped with a huge Confederate flag. When Bucum tries to bring him in there's some gunplay and resistance from his other white trash family members, but finally the fugitive is controlled by a stun gun to his crotch--one knows from watching so many films of this routine nature that this will be repeated later on in the story. You can put a lot of Benjamins down on that.

On Bucum's next bounty hunter assignment he's to bring in Reggie Wright, whom Ice Cube tells us has been to jail more times than Robert Downey Jr. (In this witless comedy, that just might be the film's funniest line). While chasing him down through the streets of Miami, the hustler runs into a commercial photo shoot and witnesses a diamond heist and a gangland-style execution. The photographer Julian (Smith) and his sister Ursula (Chaplin-granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin), who is the model, turn out to be robbers who execute everyone on the set including the insider, Mr. Barkley, who set the heist up. The unholy duo is working for a ruthless gangster with a vicious Scottish accent named Williamson (Tommy Flanagan), who when not fencing diamonds owns a place that sells luxury boats. Reggie hides in the van of the fleeing killers and overhears them say they were duped, that the uncut diamonds worth $20 million that they took are fake. When Reggie is spotted by them, he flees but loses his wallet. Inside his wallet he has the $60 million winning ticket in the Florida lotto, which he shares with his girlfriend Gina (Eva Mendes).

Bucum shakes off some of his bad attitude and reluctantly becomes partners with Reggie, as he wants to get the gang because they shot at him and because he can show up the Miami police and gain free publicity by his heroics. He therefore can follow his dream and open his own private investigation firm. There's also all those loose Benjamins lying around that a street-smart guy like Bucum might profit from in a handsome way.While Reggie just wants the lotto ticket. Pam (Rae Miller) is the receptionist in the bail-bond office where Bucum works and is attracted to him because his job is exciting. She's around to make it a foursome in search of the thugs and diamonds and lotto ticket.

The real point is that not only whites can win the lottery and make bad films, but blacks when given the chance can follow suit.

The story remains uninteresting throughout, and the film's pacing is lazily managed. The attempt to spice it up with the odd touch of exotic fish as Bucum's hobby, simply fails because it is unable to provide any funny jokes about the expensive fish.

Hey, word up, you're better off chilling and drinking some malt liquor than catching this flick. The inexperience of commercial and music video director Kevin Bray shows, who in his debut feature film is not able to have a grip on putting this story right. As a result everything attempted seems sloppy. The two male leads spend the entire film mugging for the camera, all the action seems terribly awkward, and the film seems more like a plug for Coca-Cola or a poor imitation of "Miami Vice."

REVIEWED ON 3/19/2003     GRADE: D

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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