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Ice Cube, left, shown with Will Packer and Kevin Hart at the Atlanta premiere of "Ride Along." AJC file photo



Watching the original “Ride Along” movie, which hit theaters in January 2014, was like opening one last Christmas gift we had forgotten about. The first month of the year isn’t exactly when studios usually look to release their biggest hits, often preferring the lucrative summer and holiday seasons. But the cop buddy comedy, starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart and filmed in Atlanta, raked in more than $150 million.

“When we were on set, we knew that magic was happening. The jokes were landing. The crew was laughing. We knew it was something special,” said Tika Sumpter, who plays the love interest of Hart’s character. “We knew it would be successful. I don’t know that everyone knew it was going to do that well.”

Producer Will Packer had an idea, and said that even before “Ride Along” was released, he and director Tim Story were contemplating a sequel.

“We knew it had the potential to be big,” he said. “The actors knew, too.”

Ice Cube, Will Packer and Kevin Hart at the Atlanta premiere of the original "Ride Along" movie. AJC file photo

Ice Cube, Will Packer and Kevin Hart at the Atlanta premiere of the original “Ride Along” movie. AJC file photo

He expects big things from “Ride Along 2,” in theaters now. The movie, which was shot both here and in Miami, finds buttoned-down James (Ice Cube) and outrageous Ben (Hart) pairing up to fight crime in Atlanta and Miami as Ben prepares to marry James’ sister Angela (Sumpter).

“The chemistry between Kevin and Cube is even stronger this time,” Packer said during an interview this week. “I think it’s because those two guys are at the top of their games right now.”

New characters join the fun this time, including Sherri Shepherd, who plays wedding planner Cori.

Sherri Shepherd and Tika Sumpter in a scene from "Ride Along 2." Photo: Universal

Sherri Shepherd and Tika Sumpter in a scene from “Ride Along 2.” Photo: Universal

“It felt like a big family reunion,” Sumpter said of the lighthearted set environment. “It was a laugh factory when Sherri and Kevin would do their thing.”

The role was a hilarious challenge for Shepherd.

“Trying to do a scene with a straight face with Kevin is hard,” she said. “There was so much laughter.”

She’s ready for a threequel.

“I love Atlanta. I love Buckhead. I’m shopping for condos!” she said, before joking, “I’m sure ‘Ride Along 3’ is going to do quite well.”

Packer, the mega producer behind hits like “Straight Outta Compton,” the “Think Like a Man” movies and upcoming television series, recently wrapped “A Meyers Christmas.” The locally filmed movie stars Gabrielle Union, Danny Glover, Nicole Ari Parker, Mo’Nique and Omar Epps.

He didn’t reveal if there is a third “Ride Along” in the hopper.

“This is the producer’s challenge,” he chuckled toward the end of the interview, at the St. Regis in Buckhead. “Keeping all my actors happy.”