Successfully living up to the pressure of pleasing the people you wish to impress, whether it’s your family or people who are following your work, can be a daunting process. That situation can be even more intimidating when you previously captivated their attention in a similar earlier situation. That’s certainly the case with not only the two main protagonists in the new comedy, ‘Ride Along 2,’ but also with the film’s director, Tim Story, and the main actors, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. The sequel, which Universal Pictures is set to distribute in theaters on Friday, once again follows the actors’ characters as they determinedly try to solve another extraordinary case together. The helmer and lead performers are also hoping that their reunion will once again garner laughs and amusement from viewers.
‘Ride Along 2′ begins as Ben Barber (Hart), who’s now working through his probationary police status, dreams of being fully accepted into the Atlanta Police Department as an officer. But he inadvertently causes a bust that his future brother-in-law, Detective James Payton (Ice Cube), is working on to go awry. So the detective decides to travel to Miami to follow up on a case, and put space between him and James. But when Ben eagerly asks James to take him along on the trip so that he can prove his worth to their department, the detective initially refuses.
But when James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), who’s engaged to Ben, asks her brother to bring her fiancé with him, so that she can finish their last-minute wedding details, he reluctantly agrees. The detective changes his mind, as he realizes that if he brings Ben on the trip, he can finally prove how ill-suited he is for law enforcement.
Once Ben and James arrive in the Florida city, they track down their suspect, computer hacker A.J. (Ken Jeong), who turns out to be connected to a bigger crime organization. In order to protect himself, the hacker agrees to help the two officers track down the man he’s working for, Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt). While Antonio passes himself off as an upstanding community leader and philanthropist, he’s actually a ruthless criminal who’s running Miami. To help track down the drug lord, James and Ben illicit the help of a local homicide detective, the tough-minded Maya (Olivia Munn). Despite their best intentions, the officers and computer hacker are constantly faced with obstacles along the way. Through the way they contend with those challenges, they ultimately realize that the ideas they have all have about each other may not always be true.
Story generously took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Ride Along’ during an exclusive interview over the phone when he returned to Miami, where the sequel was shot, to promote the film. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he appreciated having the opportunity to reunite with Ice Cube, Hart and the rest of the returning cast and crew, as well as welcome the new actors, as he enjoyed making the original film, and knew they could all push the laughs even further in the follow-up. But the helmer also admitted that there was a bit of a pressure to make the second installment funnier, and to find ways that they could top James and Ben’s relationship and antics from the first film.
ShockYa (SY): After directing the first ‘Ride Along,’ which was a box office success when it opened in theaters in 2014, you returned to the series to helm the upcoming sequel. What was your inspiration in continuing the story of James and Ben’s at-times strained, but equally amusing and relatable, personal and professional relationships?
Tim Story (TS): Well, I sound silly when I say it was amazing, but that really is the word that describes what it was like making the sequel. To bring back this team, meaning Kevin and Cube, and once again bring these characters who we have fallen in love with to the screen, was great. To bring back my producer, William Packer, as well as my writers (Ice Cube and Kevin Hart), who also worked on the original film, was also amazing.
I also enjoyed bringing in the next cast members, like Ken Jeong, Olivia Munn and Benjamin Bratt. To also have some of the other cast members who were also in the original film, like Tika, come back was also fun. Bringing everyone together was the reward of being able to do this all again.
The first film, I admit, did better than expected. So when you get another chance at it, it’s gratifying and so much fun. Even though making the sequel brings pressure, it’s also a reward. I had so much fun with this group of actors and people behind the scenes, and it was great to make another film with my friends.
SY: Ice Cube once again wittingly plays James as more of the straight man who’s dedicated to his job of being an Atlanta detective, while Kevin once again portrays Ben, who is now a city police officer, as being more light-hearted and comical. How did the chemistry that the two actors form while making the original film influence the way they approached working together on the follow-up?
TS: It’s scary-it’s getting to be almost effortless. It’s at the point that we get along so well. We know what makes each other tick, both as a team and individuals. So now we can set each other up to win and do a great job. We’re such great friends now that we speak often in between films. So when we get back together, it’s not like we haven’t seen each other in a long time. We’re constantly seeing and talking to each other, which makes our relationships fun. That way, when we get on set, it has become a delight to direct them.
I can’t compare anyone else I work with to them, because our relationship has become effortless. We have such an organic chemistry that we can almost finish each other’s sentences. So it’s just so much fun to make movies with these guys.
SY: Since the original ‘Ride Along’ was well received by audiences, and you also had success with Ice Cube on ‘Barbershop’ and with Kevin on the ‘Think Like a Man’ films, did you feel any pressure to make ‘Ride Along 2’ even funnier?
TS: Yes, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t feel any pressure on this film. There’s always a bit of a pressure when you come back to do a sequel. Everyone wants it to be bigger and better. You’re always trying to figure out how you can top what you did in the first film.
So at the end of the day, the pressure on this movie was to make it funnier than the original, and hopefully take these characters to the next logical step in their relationships and environment.
In this case, we knew we wanted to set the story in Miami, and we did end up going with Miami. The change in location was able to give us a change in backdrop. The first movie was set in Atlanta, and we went all over the city. So we knew we needed a bigger backdrop so that we could have a bigger crime with bigger stakes, so that we could give the guys more to deal with. I think we achieved that with the sequel. I’m proud of what we were able to pull together.
But the pressure is always there, and it’s definitely something that you think about. But going into this sequel, you just try to make a great film that stands on its own. You want it to give fans of the first film a wink, but also hopefully bring in new fans who will enjoy it on its own.
SY: While the beginning of ‘Ride Along 2’ is once again set in Atlanta, most of the story, after James and Ben take on their new case, is moved to Miami. What was your experience of shooting the majority of the comedy in Florida? Do you feel the location change was beneficial to the story?
TS: Well, it was definitely helpful to come down here to Miami. One of the things that we wanted to do, and I think we achieved it, was create a fish out of water situation. Cube’s not in his own backyard, so he actually needs help pulling off certain things.
That’s what Miami allowed us to do with these guys. They were off balance most of the time, which was the next step in their relationship, especially with Cube. He knows Atlanta like the back of his hand. So we wanted to give Cube some stakes, as well. He doesn’t know how to exactly pull off everything he’s doing. So he has to fly by the seat of his pants, just as Ben has to do naturally.
Filming here was tough at times. For some reason, we chose to shoot the sequel during the summer. It was burning up, and we were constantly being rained on. So there were physical obstacles to shooting here in Miami. But we were happy to be here because this location would give us everything we were looking for. No matter how tough it was from a weather standpoint, we knew we would come out with a product that the audience will enjoy.
SY: Besides Ice Cube and Kevin, ‘Ride Along 2’ features a new supporting cast, including Benjamin Bratt, Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong, like you mentioned earlier. What was the casting process like for the new characters? Once they were cast, what was the collaboration process like with them on the set?
TS: It was great. You love it when it becomes organic, and that’s what you think of when you think about Ken. We already had this great team of Cube and Kevin, so we thought about who we would put in the car with them, who would be able to put up with the comedy. We also thought about who would be the right fit, and Ken just made sense.
I remember Cube bringing Ken’s name up, and everyone thought he would be perfect. I have always been a fan of his work, and not just in ‘The Hangover’ movies, but in all of the smaller parts he has had. Once he was brought up, it only took us about a day or two to say yes, get in contact with Ken and get him on the project.
The same was true with Olivia Munn. We just asked, “We’re going down to Miami, so how can we make it a little sexier as we put the comedy on the screen?” I was in a room with some of the other guys, and as soon as her name came up, everyone agreed on her. She’s such a funny actress, and we also thought she would be the sexy part of the team. We also wanted an actress who could be tough, and we knew she could give Cube a run for his money. So working with her worked out great.
Then with Benjamin, he brought the whole Miami Latin vibe to life. He was a dream to work with, and it was an awesome experience to have him on the set.
SY: Much of the humor in ‘Ride Along 2’ comes from the stunts that arises when James and Ben start working together again. What was the experience of creating that physical comedy with the actors, and figuring out how it would influence their latest case and relationship?
TS: The great thing about being able to make a sequel is that you get a bit more money. So you know that you have to up the physical comedy. It was great to sit and talk with Kevin, Ken and in some cases even Cube, about ideas about how we could this film funny and pull it off. We also discussed about how we could make the stunts even bigger than what we did in the first film. We thought about how we could make everything bigger and funnier, since we’re on this bigger set piece.
SY: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who helped co-write the script for the original film, also returned to ‘Ride Along 2’ to pen its screenplay. How did previously collaborating with the two scribes influence the way you approached working with them again on the sequel? Did you collaborate with them at all on ideas for the follow-up comedy?
TS: It was great to come back to the series with Phil and Matt, after working with them on the first movie. Just like with the actors, we brought back a lot of the crew from the original. I knew that if we had the writers who were with us before, with whom we already had a shorthand, we could easily create these big scenes. We set the story for the sequel up so that Cube and Kevin could always win.
Since Phil and Matt came back to the series after working on the first film, we didn’t have to teach them about the world. In some cases, they were able to take our ideas and up them and make them bigger and better. So it was cool to come back with the two of them as collaborators who we had also worked with on the first film.
SY: Once you began filming, how closely did you stick to Phil and Matt’s script? Did you encourage Ice Cube, Kevin and the supporting cast to improvise on the set while you were filming?
TS: I always encourage the actors to add more to the script. Improvising comes so naturally to Cube. But from time to time, I do have to check to make sure that we’re telling the same story. I have to make sure they understand what we need to get in the scenes. The great thing about these actors is that they can take the ideas in the script and really just run with them. As long as we tell the story in each scene, I know the actors can take their lines to the right place.
SY: Are you interested in developing a second sequel in the ‘Ride Along’ series, and reuniting with Ice Cube and Kevin again for another comedy?
TS: We would love to make a third ‘Ride Along.’ If the audience likes this film and we get enough ticket sales, I would love to come back to this series. I have so much fun working with Cube and Kevin, I can collaborate with them over and over again for the rest of my career. I have projects with them of them that we’re talking about for the future, and they’re great. We’re making movies with our friends. When it comes to ‘Ride Along’ and a few other things we’re speaking about, I would work with them again and again.
Written by: Karen Benardello