`All About the Benjamins' is really all about cliches

Review: When it comes to this film's tough-guy story, you've heard it all before.

March 08, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Ice Cube gets to act out every tough-guy fantasy he's ever dreamed in All About the Benjamins; unfortunately, he insists that we come along for the ride.

There's no disputing Cube's screen presence, and there are moments where he comes close to actually acting - including scenes in which he doesn't glower. But first-time director Kevin Bray's style is so hyperkinetic, so full of jump-starts and fast zooms and freeze frames and extreme close-ups, that it can't help but be distracting. A little style is fine, but that adjective - little - is important.

Even more distracting is co-star Mike Epps, who plays the comic sidekick (think Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, Chris Tucker in Rush Hour). Not only does Epps never shut up, but he also never stops whining, and he's never anything but an annoyance. Some riffs are funny - he's a great mimic - but it's hard to notice with all the verbal shrapnel flying about.

Cube plays bounty hunter Bucum (as in "book 'em") Jackson, a walking bundle of tough-guy cliches, foul-mouthed and sharp-tempered. But he has a tender side (he buys $600 pet fish), and he always gets his man, even if he has to ignore the law a bit to do so. Hey, I pity the poor fool who gets on this guy's bad side!

The latest fool is petty con artist Reggie Wright (Epps).While chasing Wright through the streets of Miami (which doesn't seem to have changed much since the days of Miami Vice), the two stumble on a major-league jewel heist, complete with multiple murders. Jackson gets shot at, Wright ends up hiding unwittingly in the back of the getaway van, and chaos ensues.

By now, the movie's only about 30 minutes old, but it's cliche threshold already has been reached. In fact, we've been introduced to hardly any characters, only cartoon caricatures. But the worst is yet to come.

The real bad guy is a Brit in a white suit named Williamson (Tommy Flanagan), described in the movie's press notes as a "ruthless yacht-broker turned criminal." As intriguing as that brief resume sounds, this guy's a standard-issue psycho, complete with a scar running down one side of his face.

The rest of the film essentially boils down to the pursuit of big bucks (the Benjamins - $100 bills - of the title) in two forms: $20 million in jewels and a $60 million winning Lotto ticket that Wright loses in the back of the getaway van he's mistakenly hidden himself in.

A good rule of thumb: Never trust a movie whose plot hinges on a guy losing his wallet at the worst possible time.

On the plus side, Cube is fun to watch, although it would be nice if he used something other than profanities; it would be nice if anyone in this film used something other than profanities. There's a perverse fascination in Roger Guenveur Smith's overacting as Williamson's henchman. And the coldhearted bad girl who slinks at Williamson's side is played by Carmen Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie.

It also would be nice if Bray and Cube (who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Lang) put more thought into the script. Strings of four-letter words are a poor substitute for dialogue, and it's not until the movie is almost over that someone realizes there's no reason, other than assumed macho posturing, for Cube's character to go after these bad guys so hard. The explanation makes sense, but by that time, it's hard even to feign interest in where this movie's headed, Benjamins or no.

All About the Benjamins

Starring Ice Cube, Mike Epps

Directed by Kevin Bray

Rated R (violence, adult language, sexuality)

Released by New Line Cinema

Running time 93 minutes

Sun Score * 1/2

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