Dir: Kevin Bray. US. 2002. 96 mins.

With three mid-level hits for New Line - Friday, Next Friday and The Players Club - already under his belt, rapper -turned-multihyphenate film-maker Ice Cube continues in a cheerfully generic vein with the studio's All About The Benjamins, only this time with the emphasis more on buddy action than urban comedy. Uneven tone and a ragged, implausible script will limit the new offering's crossover and international potential. But the appeal of Cube (who does duty here as star, producer and co-writer) and rising comedian Mike Epps (who previously appeared in Next Friday) to the young black audience could still be enough for this messily energetic caper to turn a modest profit from the domestic theatrical and, especially, ancillary markets.

The script apparently never met an outlandish plot twist it didn't like. Cube's Bucum Jackson is a lowly but ambitious Miami bounty hunter eager to escape the employ of his stingy boss. Epps' Reggie is a petty and none too bright criminal who becomes Bucum's latest assignment. Chasing through the streets of Miami, the two stumble into the aftermath of a gangland massacre motivated by a cache of stolen diamonds. They decide to put aside their differences to track down the thieves, who are led by sinister crime lord Williamson (Scots actor Flanagan, from Braveheart and Ratcatcher). Bucum hopes that catching the bad guys will launch his career as a private investigator (though he also has half an eye on the diamonds). Reggie just wants to reclaim the winning lottery ticket he lost to Williamson's henchmen during the murder mayhem. Both are counting on the ensuing 'Benjamins' (Benjamin Franklins, or $100 bills) to set them up in new lives with their loyal but long-suffering girlfriends (Mendes, from Training Day, and Rae Miller, from TV's Dark Angel).

The performances are no better than they need to be in such an unashamedly contrived romp. Cube is solidly appealing in his familiar tough-guy-with-a-good-heart persona and Epps' motor-mouth shtick produces a few funny moments, even if he sometimes comes across as a poor man's Chris Tucker (the Rush Hour star who provided Cube with his comic foil in the first Friday movie). As a Lethal Weapon-style buddy team the stars deliver some mildly amusing comedy and some touches of chemistry. However their relationship is never developed enough to give the film a real heart. The bad guys (primarily Flanagan and Spike Lee regular Guenveur Smith) are uniformly over the top.

Cinematographer Glen MacPherson (who brought a similar visual panache to Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds) does a stylish job shooting the Miami settings but the film makes surprisingly little use of the city's uniquely Latin atmosphere. The action sequences are run-of-the-mill, though director Kevin Bray (a music video veteran getting his first feature credit) enlivens them with some tricksy, pop video-style effects.

Among the film's more annoying liabilities (though perhaps only for older audiences) is a clumsily shifting tone. Particularly grating are the juxtapositions of moments of broad comedy with moments of fairly nasty violence. While never particularly graphic, the violence has a brutal edge that occasionally sours the good-natured humour (and has earned the film an R rating in the US).

Prod cos: New Line Cinema, Cube Vision.
Dist (US): New Line.
Intl sales: New Line International.
Prods: Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez.
Exec prods: Claire Rudnick Polstein, Ronald Lang, Toby Emmerich, Matt Moore.
Scr: Ronald Lang, Ice Cube.
Cinematography: Glen MacPherson.
Prod des: J Mark Harrington.
Ed: Suzanne Hines.
Costume des: Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell.
Music supervisor: Spring Aspers.
Music: John Murphy.
Main cast: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Eva Mendes, Tommy Flanagan, Carmen Chaplin, Valerie Rae Miller, Roger Guenveur Smith, Anthony Michael Hall.