I could sit here and type away for hours, deconstructing the finer points (using the term loosely) of the latest Ice Cube project, All About the Benjamins, were I so inclined. I could tell you about Bucum the bounty hunter (Cube), his target-turned-partner Reggie (Mike Epps, otherwise known as “Hey, that isn’t Chris Tucker!”) losing a sixty million-dollar lottery ticket and accidentally learning about a diamond heist while being relentlessly pursued. I could tell you about Bucum’s complicated motivation for …anting to solve the diamond heist and ensuing murders before the Miami PD (after all, it’s all about the Benjamins!). I could tell you all about the chase scenes featuring several bazookas, a ridiculous dog track sequence, or a scene lifted right out of Scarface, the last surprising no one. I believe that when a rapper hits it big, a poster of Scarface comes in the “Opulence for Beginners” kit that the producers of MTV Cribs provides, so I suppose some of them must have actually seen the movie. I could try all of that, or I could save us both the time, and boil it down to this: All About the Benjamins is basically 48 hrs + Miami Vice. If you’ve seen one buddy comedy with a tough guy and a funnyman, you’ve seen them all. To that end, you’ve seen All About The Benjamins.
Of course, it would be irresponsible of me to simply assert that “this movie sucked,” and move on. Besides the lukewarm jokes, predictably bad action sequences and some extremely annoying characters (cough MIKE EPPS cough), one aspect of the Benjamins juts out as jarringly bad: Mr. Bray’s direction of this boat wreck. Bray’s directorial roots are in music videos, and if no one ever told you, you’d STILL know it beyond a reasonable doubt. One can recognize the frenetic fast cut style from a mile off. Certain sequences are repeated several times over, even though they only actually occur once (i.e., someone throws the diamonds in the air three times), a technique that becomes annoying the second time it’s used. Of course, there are plenty of girls in bikinis, fancy cars, camera angles right out of Batman: The TV show, and finally, every single action sequence seems to be in slow motion. Ice Cube running toward the camera? Slow motion. Gun flying through the air? Slow motion. Bad guy exiting car? Slow motion. Boat speeding across the Biscayne Bay? Slow motion. Mike Epps looking in the refrigerator? You guessed it: slow motion.
Bray feels free (partly because no one is holding the reins) to completely ignore adages like “less is more.” Take for example the “jump” that Bucum catches opening the film. You, the audience member, are not trusted to identify that Bucum was a periphery agent of the law, and the guy in the trailer was a ‘bad guy.’ How can one tell the script considers them “slow”? If the Rebel Flag, an icon of racism in many parts of the county, isn’t quite enough, the script takes the concept a step further and throws in the racist cartoons for this bucktoothed greasy white guy to watch. A smarter director might have had either the brains to recognize that as narrative redundancy. It basically stopped just short of having the guy tattoo the N word on his chest and a burning cross lawn ornament out by the mailbox. I guess expecting subtlety from a movie that has someone getting tazered in the jewels inside the first ten minutes is expecting too much, though.
Thankfully, there is someone on set to save this film from being a total disaster, and that’s the film’s impetus, star Ice Cube. I doubt this script called for very much from Cube as an actor (that this character has no first name would indicate that it was written as Ice Cube, Bounty Hunter), but don’t let that diminish the performance. Cube has an undeniable natural presence about him, a charisma that can’t really be taught. He’s tough, he’s funny…the guy is talented. He’s got the potential to be the next big crossover star, as long as he finds the inspiration to challenge himself and not be, to borrow a phrase, all about the Benjamins when it comes to films.
I did manage to learn something while watching All About the Benjamins, and that is that “bling” is one of the most versatile words in the English language. It refuses to be defined by a single part of speech, functioning as a noun (one can wear “bling” for example), adjective (“this house is bling bling”), or a verb (“bling this crib out”). Though no one in this movie uses it as an adverb (Bucum doesn’t do anything “blingingly”), it’s also one of the few words that can function easily when used in succession, so long as the latter is emphasized (one can say “bling BLING,” for example, but not “nice NICE”). It’s a pretty amazing linguistic phenomenon, and in the future I’m going to try to master the finer points of bling.
All About the Benjamins is not bling blingin’, or blingy bling, nor is it pure bling, it doesn’t get particularly bling-y with it, and it’s far from blingety-bling. In fact, it’s the opposite of whatever bling is, which I’m quite sure is “tired unfunny vanity project crap.”
In true New Line studio fashion, the technical marks on even this less-than-anticipated title are outstanding, starting with the picture itself. Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, All About the Benjamins looks tremendous. The notoriously colorful Miami backdrop provides a wide range of hues to work with, and this disc renders each and every one with fantastic clarity and razor sharp resolution. The many tests of shadows and black depths demonstrate excellent response. The print is also entirely clear of any sort of imperfections, which is to be expected, given excellent DVD studio, and the fact that very few prints saw any sort of heavy usage. Among the few complaints to be made about Benjamins is the extensive use of edge enhancement (lending to overly harsh lines), and an overall “filmy” feel (as opposed to digital or video). Minor complaints aside, All About the Benjamins is a superior video transfer.
Menus are animated, but in an annoying and almost confusing way.
Not only does the DVD feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, but also the blinging-est of audio formats, a DTS 5.1 that is, as they say, “bumpin’.” Since the movie isn’t quite God awful, this can’t count as casting pearls before swine (as Slap Shot 2 does), but it’s certainly a surprise. Discrete use of the rear channels is apparent quite early on, as the Floridian cicada chirp in the forest, distinctly in each channel. The two rear speakers actually perform a lateral pan amongst themselves, which is surprisingly rare in even the most active audio mixes. Dialogue is mastered a little too softly at times in the center channel, but for the most part, it’s clear and understandable. The forward channels handle a lot of the stereophonics in the film’s expectedly hip-hop soundtrack, reinforced, of course, by tight thumps in the very active subwoofer. This is spot-on reference quality work. Besides the aforementioned DD5.1, there’s a Dolby 2.0 as well as subs and captions in English.
All About the Benjamins carries the prestigious “New Line Platinum Series” banner, which not only means improved techs, but usually implies a better-than-average extras package. This disc is a case of quantity over quality when it comes to supplements.
For example, the feature length commentary starring director Kevin Bray and CubeVision film producer Matt Alvarez is nice to write up on the back of a box, but this track needs serious substantive help. Bray sounds like he’s just watching his feature film debut in all its glory. Where was Alvarez to pick up the ball and help this guy out, guide him along? Better yet, where are the real personalities in this film, namely executive producer Ice Cube? As it stands, this is a real snoozer of a commentary.
From here, the disc moves into a menu labeled documentaries, which is a misnomer. These are featurettes, four of them, generally uninformative beyond the scope of the film itself. They’re promotional pieces, whereas a documentary would have been something like a look at the life of a bounty hunter, for example. Whatever we call them, the first, titled “Shot Callers,” runs just under fifteen minutes and basically shines the spotlight on Ice Cube’s film production company. My absolute favorite was the white guy with cornrows and Fubu shirt. I know he goes around calling people “dawg,” giving people high fives that turn into hugs, and exclaiming things like “oh snap!” I am also POSITIVE that Cube and his buddies make fun of this tool when he’s not around.
The next three “featurettes” make “Shot Callers” look like Riefenstahl work. The twelve-plus minute “Strictly Business” is basically a ‘first look’ type of special, one with too many F-bombs to make it on MTV air. The next featurette, “Miami Nice” showcases the film’s production designs and backgrounds, filmed on location in beautiful Miami, Florida. If you found yourself wondering “Golly, how did they come up with that idea for Gina’s apartment?” then I suppose this is a great feature, but to the rest of us, this basically runs like an ad to other filmmakers: “FILM IN MIAMI, GIRLS IN BIKINIS!” The fourth and final featurette is called “All About the Stunts.” Want to take a guess what it’s about? About seven minutes long, that’s what.
After trudging through these featurettes for around forty-five minutes, the bonus materials turn far shorter in length. There’s a two minute deleted scene. It’s pretty clear that it just wasn’t funny enough to make the final cut; would 97 minutes instead of 95 minutes have been a big deal? Along the same lines is a two minute gag reel, featuring flubs mainly by funny man Mike Epps. It was during this gag reel that Epps’ manifest destiny became clear: he WILL play J.J. Walker when the big screen adaptation of Good Times roll around.
Up next is a four minute music video for the song “Told Y’all,” by someone named Trina. Where’s the Pee Diffy video, for the title track? Didn’t Cube have a song for this movie? Moving on, we find a pair of trailers, and some lengthy textual excerpts from the film’s press kit. Hey, it’s not great, but it’s still a better package than Friday, sadly.
Ice Cube fans will definitely be able to find a place on their DVD shelves for All About the Benjamins. Sure, the movie is not one of the stronger entries in his filmography, but it’s far from the worst (Anaconda…Ghosts of Mars…I could go on), and the DVD itself has plenty of aspects that make it more marketable. The video is fine, the audio is great, and it’s even got a few bonuses. At such a reasonable price (just under $21 pre-ordered, $27 in stores), Cube fans are certain to get their money’s worth. For the rest of the DVD market, the junky film makes this disc a rental at best.
Special Features List
- Commentary by director Kevin Bray
- Theatrical trailer
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- “Shot Caller: From Videos to Features”
- “Strictly Business: Making the Benjamins”
- “Miami Nice – Production Design”
- “All About the Stunts”
- Trina Music Video “Told Y’all”