About halfway through the sequel to Universal’s 2014 hit “Ride Along,” there comes a moment when Kevin Hart must sift through a trashcan and take a bite of some discarded nachos, though not before reaching in and picking out a large clump of hair. Like many of the gags on display here — say, Ken Jeong indulging in cyber-foreplay with a girl dressed as a giant mouse, or Ice Cube’s car blowing up — the scene serves no particular narrative purpose. But it does supply a fairly spot-on metaphor: Hart is the audience, the trashcan is the month of January, and the tray of refried slop and congealed cheese being ingested is “Ride Along 2,” another tired, witless and potentially lucrative attempt to spin an exhausted buddy-cop template into action-comedy gold. If you’re wondering what the hair represents, you’re already giving the movie more thought than anyone else has.
Those who saw the first “Ride Along” may well have forgotten how it ended, with diminutive Atlanta security guard Ben Barber (Hart) proposing to his doting girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter), with the reluctant blessing of her detective brother, James (Cube). Scripted by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (two of the first film’s four credited screenwriters), “Ride Along 2” picks up with Ben and Angela’s wedding just around the corner, and the fact that so little time has passed is just one reason the movie feels like such a slog from the get-go. Although he’s now a rookie police officer, Ben is still an obnoxious, accident-prone motormouth, while James remains little more than a scowl with a badge, determined to show Ben just how ill suited he is for law enforcement.
When Ben’s fast-talking, slow-thinking shenanigans lead to the shooting of another detective (a cameo by Tyrese Gibson, on loan from Universal’s “Fast and the Furious” franchise), James persuades Atlanta PD to send him and his brother-in-law-to-be to Miami, where they’re tailing a hacker who might lead them to his crime-kingpin boss. For James, it’s another opportunity to get rid of “the dwarf” once and for all; for Ben, it’s a chance to prove himself on the force and enjoy the bachelor party of his dreams. And sure enough, Story lets us soak up the sights and sounds of the Magic City, whether he’s crowding the frame with bikini-clad bodies, staging a foot chase through the back alleys of Little Havana, or having Hart belch fire and tear up the dance floor at a nightclub (actually an Atlanta soundstage, but whatever).
But the two cops’ respective plans go awry when they come face-to-face with the hacker, AJ (Jeong), a resourceful geek whom James dismisses as “a low-budget-ass Jackie Chan,” perhaps in an attempt to stir fond memories of “Rush Hour.” If only! The filmmakers deserve some credit for attempting to further diversify their mostly non-white ensemble, a choice that pays off with one kinda-funny line when James accuses AJ of dodging him just because he’s black (“Look at you! You would run from you!” AJ replies). What they’ve really demonstrated, unfortunately, is that mediocrity is wholly color-blind: Nobody here, whether black, white, Asian or Latino, is permitted to say or do anything of interest — not Antonio Pope (a bored-looking Benjamin Bratt), a wealthy philanthropist who is soon revealed as the murderous drug lord, and certainly not local detective Maya (Olivia Munn), trotted out as a tough-minded love interest for James.
Although Maya’s smarts are ultimately set aside in favor of her shapelier attributes — as when she stages a diversion by getting hot and heavy with Antonio on the dance floor — she’s treated with marginally more respect than the other women on screen, like the pretty, vacant Angela and her increasingly fascistic wedding planner, Cori (Sherri Shepherd). But really, this is no one’s idea of an actors’ showcase: Jeong, a wily and irrepressible comic talent, is best known for teaching Spanish on “Community” and baring all in “The Hangover” movies, and those achievements are unlikely to be eclipsed by his uninspired third-wheel turn here. As for the manic Hart and the surly Cube, they had a hard enough time breathing fresh life into this stale formula the first time around, and seem content to spin their wheels while hopefully contemplating a career shift away from the Story franchise factory.
The tediously over-explained plot chokes and sputters along, and many of the action set pieces simply smack of desperation, never more so than when Ben finds himself trapped in Antonio’s backyard with a jumbo alligator. There is one diverting car chase, however, in which Ben, drawing on his video-game addiction, skillfully outmaneuvers one vehicle after another — a sequence that finds editor Peter S. Elliot cutting briskly between live-action footage and a “Grand Theft Auto”-style simulation. It’s somehow fitting that “Ride Along 2” springs to life in those moments when it most clearly resembles the non-movie it is.