Ice Cube, Mike Epps at ease in 'Benjamins'

Applying the scruffy, slacker mood of "Friday" to a caper plot that seems downloaded from Elmore Leonard's "out" basket seems presumptuous at best. Yet "All About the Benjamins" shows this blend to go down a lot more smoothly than one would have imagined. Granted, its dark-edged crime caper plot is so formulaic as to seem almost ritualized. Yet Ice Cube and Mike Epps enact their standard odd-couple tango with such ease and brio, you'd think they'd never seen such movies before. A lot of generic thrillers could profit from their easy-does-it byplay.

Scowling as impeccably as ever, Ice Cube is Bucum (as in "book 'em") Jackson, a skip tracer for a low-life Miami bail bonds outfit, whose ruthless efficiency in rounding up parole violators and other lowlifes goes unappreciated by his boss. He'd love to set up his own private-investigations company, but nothing short of a lottery win will get him enough "Benjamins" (yes, we're talking hundreds) to pull it off.

Meanwhile, con man Reggie Wright (Epps), who's high on Bucum's to-do list, has actually won the $6 million lottery jackpot. But the winning ticket is in his wallet. And the wallet is in the back of a van used by a brother-sister tandem (Carmen Chaplin, Roger Guenveur Smith) in a bloody diamond heist.

Of course, Reggie wouldn't have even stowed away in the van if Bucum hadn't chased him into the alley. And the diamonds turned out to be fake. But, for the moment, all that's beside the point since the killers and their wealthy boss (Tommy Flanagan) want Reggie dead and the real diamonds recovered.

The dots are all but connected in this script by Ice Cube and Ron Lang. Along the way, there's a lot of brutal action that seems more compatible with Mickey Spillane than with Leonard. But the two leads ease both the predictability and the gore. Ice Cube shows greater confidence and flexibility as a leading man. And Epps is a natural contrast.


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