Prepare yourself folks! It looks like it’s going to be the year of Kevin Hart, whether we like it or not. The comedian’s concert films are doing bang up business, he was the funniest part of the very mediocre GRUDGE MATCH, and he has no less than two more films coming up soon for wide release. Will the world suffer from an overdose of Kevin Hart? Time will tell, but based on RIDE ALONG, the latest buddy cop “comedy” from FANTASTIC FOUR director Tim Story, I think I would tell Mr. Hart to take a little more care in picking his projects. (That said, RIDE ALONG made 40 million dollars on its opening weekend, so what the heck do I know?)
RIDE ALONG tells the story of Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) a high school security guard who dreams of getting into the police academy. He is dating and wants to marry a beautiful young woman named Angela (Tika Sumpter) and the feeling is mutual. The only thing standing in the way is the approval of Angela’s tough-as-nails cop brother James (a permanently scowling Ice Cube) who thinks Ben’s not nearly good enough for his sister. Ben’s getting into the police academy is not nearly enough for James, who decides to scare Ben off from the police force by taking him on a one day ride along, ostensibly for the purpose of giving Ben the opportunity to prove himself to James. In the meantime, James is on the hunt for a mysterious criminal named Omar, a man no one has ever seen, and his time with Ben keeps getting in the way.
Cliches and poor direction abound in RIDE ALONG, wasting a very good cast that is really, really trying hard to wring blood from a stone in terms of laughs. It’s hard to believe it took four (COUNT ‘EM . . .FOUR!) freaking writers to put this story together. It takes every buddy cop cliché in the book and treats them like they’ve never been used before. Lone wolf cop who ignores the rules? Check. Superior who yells and yells (and yells some more) about James lack of following the rules without ever really punishing him? Check. Partners who aren’t who they seem? Double-check. I mean, c’mon guys: by the time Lawrence Fishburne shows up as Omar I felt like I’d already seen the movie.
Tim Story’s direction is serviceable, but you can tell that big budget action sequences just aren’t his thing. If he’d had a decent script with a lot of laughs, that wouldn’t have mattered all that much, but when the story is as flimsy as it is in RIDE ALONG, it’s going to take a more gifted director than Story to elevate the material.
What keeps RIDE ALONG from being a total disaster is the game cast. Hart provides the film’s biggest laughs as a man whose reach sometimes literally exceeds his grasp. He wants to do right by his girlfriend and her brother, but just lacks the ability to do so without screwing up. Of course, the situation James puts him in is entirely unfair (the idea of being able to handle yourself on the streets as a cop without one iota of training is ludicrous) but the contrived script manages to wring a few laughs out of Ben using his video game skills to crack some clues in the case. There’s also an interesting bit involving gaming headphones that is used to drive the plot forward that’s creative if not entirely believable.
Forgive me for going off on a tangent here, but it may seem to you that I’m overanalyzing RIDE ALONG a bit. And you’d be right. You want to know why? BECAUSE THE DAMN FILM HARDLY HAS ANY LAUGHS! If the movie was the least bit funny, I wouldn’t be thinking about all the stupid details the story gets wrong because at least the film would be making me laugh. Unfortunately all the big laughs in the movie can be found in the trailers and, aside from a few chuckles here and there, RIDE ALONG exists in a primarily laugh free zone.
Aside from Hart, Ice Cube makes for a good tough cop, but the script has him mired in so many stereotypical cop clichés that every time I looked at him I was reminded of a wooly mammoth sinking into the La Brea Tar Pits. His chemistry with Hart is decent enough, but the situations in which they find themselves are too contrived to be convincing. Ben is established early on as a fundamentally decent guy who does not deserve all the crap James heaps upon him. Halfway through the film I was hoping Omar would show up and pop James right between the eyes, a sentiment I’m sure the filmmakers were not going for. Sumpter is game and beautiful as Angela, but again, the script gives her very little to do, and talented supporting players like Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen, John Leguizamo, and the aforementioned Fishburne are left holding the bag from a meaningful character standpoint.
I know humor is a subjective subject, but RIDE ALONG fails to deliver on almost every point. I'd wait for the Redbox folks! 2 out of 5 stars.
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