All About the Benjamins Review

Mar 08, 2002 | 9:46am EST

On the slick Miami streets it should be easy for a top-notch bounty hunter like Bucum Jackson (Ice Cube) to make a buck. Yet with his unorthodox ways of catching criminals that make him unpopular with the local cops and his boss big money has so far eluded him. Enter con artist Reggie Wright (Mike Epps) a smooth-talking punk whom Jackson has put away before and is about to again. Reggie escapes from Bucum into the getaway van of two jewel thieves (Carmen Chaplin and Roger Guenveur Smith) after a big score but it seems the two have stolen fake diamonds. Not good especially when their boss (Tommy Flanagan) finds out. Wright escapes again and winds up at the apartment of his girlfriend Gina (Eva Mendes). They find out the lottery ticket Reggie bought for Gina earlier has won a $60 million jackpot. But the winning ticket happens to be in the wallet he accidentally dropped in the van which is now in the possession of the bad guys. Oops. Then Jackson shows up. (With me so far?) Reggie manages to convince the bounty hunter to hook up with him to try to get the lottery ticket back and split the winnings. Bucum sees the advantages right away. If they find the ticket they're in the money. If not Jackson will nab the criminals and get the fame and fortune he needs to set up his own private investigation firm. With so much cash at stake including the real $20 million stash of diamonds it's not a bad deal.

Despite the convoluted plot the acting remains pretty one-dimensional. Ice Cube has a certain charm which he's carried with him in his films. He has it in Benjamins but he plays Bucum almost too straight without much texture behind the character. The thing Ice Cube does well though is play off his co-stars as he did with Chris Tucker in Friday and with Epps in Next Friday. It's obvious Ice Cube (who also co-produced and co-wrote Benjamins) is trying to capitalize on his success with Epps. Unfortunately the chemistry between the two stars in Benjamins misses a step. Epps' Reggie comes off far more annoying than anything else and in some moments you wish Bucum would just shoot Reggie to put us out of our misery. Everyone else in the film plays their stereotypical roles as best they can. Mendes tries to be a little too much like Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump while the bad guys try to be a little too much like every other bad guy we've ever seen. Valarie Rae Miller who has turned heads as a tough lesbian on the hit TV series Dark Angel is completely wasted as a wannabe bounty hunter trying to partner up with Bucum.

Benjamins wants to be that buddy action flick where the banter is quick and the guns are blazin' with the Miami setting giving the film a Miami Vice feel of water boats and hot women in bikinis. Unfortunately it tries too hard. There are moments of hilarity--a few scenes with Epps and Mendes and especially a scene with Epps and two older women after they've scammed a local convenience store--but they are few and far between. The script has almost too much going on (hence the difficult time trying to keep this description of the plot to a page) while the characters fall too easily into cliches. Even though Ice Cube is certainly a player in Hollywood having successfully produced many of his own films he does a much better job putting himself in his own element where the surroundings are more familiar. He's going for a bang-up run-of-the-mill action movie here instead of giving us a slice of life like in his Friday movies. Sorry a slice of life is far far more interesting.

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