Directed by: Kevin Bray
Starring: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Tommy Flanagan, Eva Mendes, Carmen Chaplin, Anthony Michael Hall
What separates Ice Cube from many rappers-turned-wanna-be-actors is that Cube seems to be content with being a personality. He isn't really trying to be an actor -- something Snoop Dog and LL Cool J need to learn (and that Sean Combs doesn't need to think about). He seems perfectly happy being a stocky, slightly sexualized, foul-mouthed version of Mr. T., and that's what makes All About the Benjamins (the title referring to Benjamin Franklin on the hundred-dollar bill) a fairly entertaining 90 minutes of untaxing, uninspired, unoriginal moviegoing. No, it's not good by any stretch of the imagination. With one music video to his credit, director Kevin Bray hasn't the experience -- or the natural talent -- to raise All About the Benjamins above the cliches, formula and illogic of its 1970s "Blaxploitation" movie roots. And that may actually be in the movie's favor: the fact that it has more in common with Superfly than it has with The Wash. This gives the movie a kind of cockeyed "retro" charm that may not make it appreciably better than a lot of similar movies, but that does give it a pleasantly nostalgic feeling. Its plot may lack logic. It may lack originality. But at the very least, All About the Benjamins actually has a plot -- something increasingly rare in this type of exploitation filmmaking. Compare it, again, to The Wash -- which has very little story (and what story there is gets botched) and substitutes what currently passes for stand-up shtick for humor. Even the most hackneyed plot on earth -- and All About the Benjamins is nothing if not hackneyed -- is better than no plot at all. Cube plays Bucum (pronounced "Book 'em") Jackson, a loose-cannon bounty hunter. He's so much of an insurance risk that his friend and employer, Seth Martinez (Anthony Giaimo), can only afford to use him as a freelance operative. After Bucum is a little too extravagant with the firepower in dealing with a bail-jumping redneck in the Everglades, Martinez is only willing to give him the seemingly safe assignment of bringing in small-time con artist Reggie Wright (Mike Epps), a notoriously nonviolent character whose primary offense is never showing up for court dates. Reggie's idea of a big score is being in cahoots with a pair of elderly women on welfare with whom he runs a small-time shoplifting scam. What no one expects is that Reggie -- fleeing from Bucum -- will inadvertently get up to his neck in a big-time diamond heist absolutely littered with corpses. Sensing a personal coup by beating the Miami Police Department to the punch, Bucum opts to attach himself to Reggie in an effort to ferret out the real criminals, thereby turning the two characters into an ill-matched duo. Sound familiar? It only gets more so, especially with a sub-plot involving a $50 million winning lottery ticket in Reggie's wallet, which he lost in the back of the thieves' van (Rene Clair built a whole movie out of this idea back in 1930 with Le Million). It's all pretty quaint and familiar, but Cube and Epps make a nice bickering screen team and the picture keeps moving at a nice clip. Yes, the film is violent and the characters definitely give the "f" word a workout, but what do you expect? Some criticism has been leveled at the level of sadism evidenced in certain scenes, notably those involving torturing one of the bad guys into giving information. This is certainly sadistic, but it's not really very far afield from the tactics employed by Edward G. Robinson in the 1933 gangster spoof, The Little Giant. (Sometimes critical political correctness can get just too uptight for its own good.) In other ways, the film is fairly restrained. There are drug jokes in the movie, but I only counted two overt ones (one of which is in the trailer), which is something of a surprise these days. Sure, the movie can be picked apart on a realism basis. Consider the scene where the villains launch a rocket at Bucum and Reggie. Instead of hitting them, it blows up a fish-monger's truck, causing a rain of icthyological specimens on our heroes' car (a nice touch actually, since Bucum collects expensive tropical fish). That may not be all that unrealistic, but the fact that the next several minutes of the movie play out in the same location and there's not the first sign of law enforcement? As a 40-year resident of Florida, I know full well that Miami isn't the safest city on earth, but I'm hard-pressed to buy this. However, All About the Benjamins isn't about realism. It's a mildly entertaining time-waster that more or less succeeds on that basis.