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"ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS"
(2002) (Ice Cube, Mike Epps) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Action: A bounty hunter reluctantly teams up with a con artist he's been pursuing to get to the bottom of a multi-million dollar diamond crime.
PLOT:
Bucum Jackson (ICE CUBE) is a maverick bounty hunter who dreams of opening his own detective agency one day, but until then must put up with his bail bondsman boss, Martinez (ANTHONY GIAIMO), telling him he should take on a partner, a point his coworker, Pam (VALARIE RAE MILLER), thinks is a good idea.

His latest assignment is to find and bring in Reggie Wright (MIKE EPPS), a petty con man who pulls off convenience store shoplifting crime with the aid of senior citizens when not buying lottery tickets for his live-in girlfriend, Gina (EVA MENDES). Reggie and Bucum have a long, cat and mouse history together, and the pursuit and fleeing begins once again.

This time, however, Reggie ends up in the back of a van, hidden from the view of criminals Ursula (CARMEN CHAPLIN) and Ramose (ROGER GUENVEUR SMITH) who've just killed several people to steal millions of dollars worth of diamonds. The only problem is, the diamonds turn out to be fakes and the two know that their boss, Robert Williamson (TOMMY FLANAGAN), will be none too happy about that.

When they discover Reggie in the van, he acts like he knows where the real diamonds so that he can escape, but unknowingly leaves his wallet behind. Since Ursula opened fire on Bucum during their departure from the crime scene, he's now interested in catching them as a means to some free publicity for himself.

Meanwhile, upon learning that he had the winning lottery ticket in his wallet, Reggie wants to find them so that he can retrieve it. From that point on, the two men then reluctantly agree to become partners of sorts so that they can succeed in their respective quests.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Back when I was a kid, my parents sold one of their cars for cash and were paid with several one hundred dollar bills. My friends and I were thoroughly impressed upon seeing the money, not only because of the total amount in hand, but also because we'd never seen, let alone held a C-note before. The legendary bill - of which there are more in circulation regarding total cumulative worth than any other - obviously had ahold of our young, impressionable and capitalistic minds.

Thus, and even more so today with the passage of so many years, I can appreciate bounty hunter Bucum Jackson's stating that it's "All about the Benjamins." Of course, he's not referring to future clones of Mr. Bratt, but rather those bills that are apparently now nicknamed after Mr. Franklin whose mug adorns the front of them.

Like many characters in the movies and real life, Bucum's motivated by money, as are apparently all who are involved in the film in which he appears, the appropriately titled, "All About the Benjamins." Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money. After all, that's what drives our economy. Yet, it's the way in which one goes about doing that that proves one's intelligence and creativity, whether as an everyday person or a filmmaker.

The tactic used in this film was apparently to borrow the plot and style of the 1982 film, "48 HRS," modify it a bit, and then unleash it on the viewing public, hoping it will attract plenty of Benjamins. The problem is, among the many afflicting this effort, I've seen "48 HRS" and this film isn't anywhere in the same league, let alone worthy of being called "Less than 2 HRS" for its duration.

While nothing particularly novel in and upon itself, the original "48 HRS" mixed brutal violence with edgy and often quite funny comedy. It also benefited tremendously from the performances of and chemistry between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as the standard mismatched partners who reluctantly team up for various reasons.

This film - written by Ronald Lang (making his feature debut) and directed by Kevin Bray (making his debut after helming various music videos) - attempts to do the same, but fails for several reasons. First and most notably, Ice Cube ("Ghosts of Mars," "Three Kings") and Mike Epps ("How High," "Bait") are no Nolte and Murphy, either in terms of acting abilities or onscreen charisma.

Cube (who co-wrote the script after penning "The Players Club" and "Friday") plays the gruff "lawman" who acts as the straight-man to Epps' con man and all of his comical mugging and comments, but the two feel like recycled movie characters rather than real people. Although the actors' fans might enjoy seeing the two together again after appearing in "Next Friday," the friction and caustic banter between them feels forced and hackneyed rather than fresh and/or entertaining.

The basic plot - consisting of Cube trying to nab the elusive Epps and both then running afoul of standard movie villains and some stolen diamonds, with Epps also trying to retrieve his wallet that contains a winning lottery ticket - is too simple despite it sounding possibly complex. It's also something of a mess as it's too sloppy and not constructed well enough to take full advantage of the setup.

What does transpire is typical and predictable for this sort of mixed genre production. It does give Epps plenty of opportunities to be a cut-up, but unless you're fond of his style of humor (in over-exaggerated mode here), you probably won't find much of what he does or says as anything more than occasionally amusing.

In fact, the cast and crew have seemingly opted to substitute a plethora of profanity and music video style visuals and quick editing for anything resembling thought or creativity. Hmm, I must have missed the chapter in my screenwriting books about "If you're ever in doubt, shout it out with the "f" word."

Beyond the two leads, the only remarkable thing about the supporting performers is that Carmen Chaplin ("Post Coitum," "The Serpent's Kiss") is the granddaughter of screen legend Charlie Chaplin. Eva Mendes ("Training Day," "Urban Legends: Final Cut") and Valarie Rae Miller (TV's "Dark Angel") play the standard girlfriend/minor sidekick characters who predictably kick into action late in the film (although not to any satisfactory degree). Meanwhile, Roger Guenveur Smith ("Final Destination," "Summer of Sam") and Tommy Flanagan ("Gladiator," "Face/Off") embody the typical, malicious white male villains (with the scars - SARCASM ALERT - on the latter's cheeks making him look so much more menacing than if he were without them).

Perhaps with different actors in the lead roles, a better-written script and a more accomplished director at the helm, this effort might have come off better. Then again, that would have meant it would be an entirely different movie, so why not just go back and watch "48 HRS" instead to see how this sort of film is done right. "All About the Benjamins" rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed March 4, 2002 / Posted March 8, 2002


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