all about the benjamins (2002)

director: kevin bray

ice cube, mike epps, eva mendes, tommy flanagan

When the term "classic comedy" comes up, you'll hear the same names mentioned: Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati. There's an assumption that the best comedy shares a common aesthetic - wildly physical, even athletic, but anchored with wit and a gentleness that makes it immediately sympathetic. What this wonderful vision ignores is the overwhelming popularity of the Three Stooges, whose persistent influence in the real world trumps any of these "classic" comics.

All About the Benjamins is a comedy in the way that soap operas are dramas - it aims to be funny, but it's really about people acting on their basest impulses. Which is fine if you like your movie protagonists to have the motivations of a shark or a cockroach, but as comedy it's about as funny as a bar brawl.

Bucum Jackson (Ice Cube) is a bounty hunter with dreams of starting his own detective agency. Reggie Wright (Mike Epps) is a small-time hustler who dreams of winning the lottery. At the beginning of a fateful day, Bucum is given Reggie's file and told to bring him in, not for the first time. By the end of the day, they've blundered into a bloody jewel heist organized by some truly big time crooks, who've also inadvertently made off with Reggie's $20 million winning lottery ticket. The bumbling thief and the bounty hunter forge a grudging partnership to get what they both want.

With All About the Benjamins, director Kevin Bray begins by bisecting Eddie Murphy's character in Beverley Hills Cop into two separate personas, Bucum and Reggie, and sets them at each other as well as the villains. What you have here is the clown as thug, cracking wise and taking pratfalls: most of the film is spent watching Bucum slap Reggie around, or ricochet through life-threatening situations - the Moe vs. Larry, Shemp and Curly dynamic with a budget and pyrotechnics.

In the midst of it all, you'll have a scene like the one where Bucum and Reggie kidnap one of the villains, chain him to a shower and torture him for information, a moment consciously reminiscent of the "chainsaw" scene in Al Pacino's Scarface, and about as funny. That the psycopathically violent villains are white and Bucum and Reggie are black is, supposedly, meant to be a clever reversal of a "racist" movie cliche. That Bucum and Reggie act like violent psycopaths is a fact meant to be ignored.

In the end, Bucum and Reggie get what they want, a happy ending involving foreign luxury cars and champagne on speedboats. That the audience might have wanted a hint of an excuse to empathize with the "heroes" of All About the Benjamins is obviously less essential to this kind of cruel comedy.