ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS

R
Reviews

Fresh from the comedy Next Friday, Ice Cube and Mike Epps team up again for a more action-oriented film. In All About the Benjamins, they play squabbling buddies involved with deadly jewel thieves--a premise recycled so many times it feels utterly worn-out. The film's generally good-natured tone and a sparkling turn by Eva Mendes can't lift it from low-rent action fodder.

Fed up with pulling fugitives from trailer parks, Miami bounty hunter Tyson Bucum (Ice Cube) dreams about opening his own private-eye office. First he has to track down Reggie White (Mike Epps), a fast-talking petty crook who's jumped bail. But Reggie spots Bucum and hides in a nearby van, not realizing that it belongs to Julian (Roger Guenveur Smith) and Ursula (Carmen Chaplin), brother-and-sister killers on the trail of $20 million in diamonds. Reggie escapes from them, but not before they grab his wallet, along with a lottery ticket that turns out to be worth $60 million.

Bucum catches up with Reggie at his girlfriend Gina's (Eva Mendes) apartment. Bucum doesn't believe the lottery ticket exists, but realizes that catching the killers could give him the publicity he needs to start his private-eye firm. That means sitting back and waiting for the murderers to track down Reggie. But it also means that he has to let Reggie be his partner, leading to several prolonged verbal battles with both Reggie and Eva.

Meanwhile, Julian and Ursula report back to Williamson (Tommy Flanagan), who manages a luxury-yacht showroom when he isn't dealing stolen gems to international financiers. The psychotic Williamson wants Reggie's head, as well as the missing diamonds. But Bucum and Reggie elude Williamson's men and track down the jewels first. When Williamson kidnaps Gina, Bucum turns to his secretary Pam (Valarie Rae Miller) for help. Bucum, Pam and Reggie meet up with Williamson and his gang at a dog track to exchange the diamonds for Gina. Their plan goes awry, leading to a high-speed chase and a final confrontation aboard a gigantic yacht.

Ice Cube, who produced and co-wrote All About the Benjamins, uses his easygoing screen presence to good effect as straight man to Epps' more abrasive role. A stand-up comedian, Epps has attitude to spare, but needs better dialogue. Eva Mendes, playing a tempestuous stripper, is the most fun in the film, which is otherwise too slow and predictable to generate any energy. With its lackadaisical plotting and mindless action, All About the Benjamins evokes the bottom tier of blaxploitation flicks from the 1970s. Still, for Ice Cube fans at least, it will pass the time until the next installment in his Friday series.

--Daniel Eagan