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‘Ride Along’ not worth the ride

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Ride Along

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They’ve thrown every tired, cop movie cliché in the book at “Ride Along,” a new cop comedy from Tim Story, who previously directed “Barbershop,” the “Fantastic Four” movies and “Think Like a Man.” No fewer than four writers are credited on this mess, which in a 100 minute running time that feels much longer, manages even fewer original ideas than it does laughs. Don’t expect another “21 Jump Street” or “The Heat” here.

Kevin Hart plays Ben, a high school security guard and expert online gamer, whose two major ambitions in life are to become a police officer and marry his beautiful live-in girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). He wants the blessings of Angela’s surly older brother James, played by Ice Cube, for both. There’s some nebulous backstory that’s supposed to explain James’ otherwise inexplicable hostility towards Ben, but pay attention or you’ll miss the expository dialogue. This movie tends to do more telling than showing. In any event, James, who is a standard-issue doesn’t-play-by-the-rules movie cop, dares Ben to come along on a ride along, during which he’s arranged for a lot of nuisance calls to discourage Ben from attending the police academy, where he’s been accepted.

It just isn’t nice to discourage young people from following their dreams, especially when they clearly have the potential to achieve them, so it’s sort of amazing that the filmmakers seem to think Ice Cube is playing a good guy. Ben did qualify for the police academy after all, and during an oddly long sequence showing him at work, we do at least see that he has talent at handling rowdy teenagers. As for Ice Cube’s James, he’s surly, rude, humorless and equally indifferent to both authority and the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Atlanta.

Okay, so was Dirty Harry, but Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood at least understood they were raising those issues and didn’t make jokes out of wounding suspects. Ice Cube, who has been effective in lots of roles, is about as animated as a stand-up lobby display here. For one thing, neither he nor directory Story seem to grasp the fact that he’s the straight man. Hart is supposed to be the character the audience both identifies with and laughs at. But for long stretches, “Ride Along” seems to think it’s a cop movie in the mold of “Beverly Hills Cop” or “48 Hrs,” both of which were essentially straight cop movies that let the comedy come from Eddie Murphy. This script isn’t focused enough to pull that off, and Kevin Hart doesn’t quite have Eddie Murphy’s gift for completely dominating a scene.

The messy, talky screenplay seems to have been concocted from a checklist of cop movie clichés: enter Cranky Lieutenant (Bruce McGill, who’s played this role better elsewhere) stage right, bring on the bad guy with the foreign accent, cue the traitor in the unit. It bears noting that Ice Cube played the cranky lieutenant role in “21 Jump Street,” to far better effect than anything he does here. This script seems a little unsure if Kevin Hart is playing the comic sidekick or if he’s actually the main character, and both John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen could qualify in the role. Are there any movie viewers out there who don’t know that if no one has ever seen the face of the villain, the hero has to impersonate him? By the way, Laurence Fishburne, who gets special billing, doesn’t appear until so late in the movie that only the dimmest of viewers will have failed to guess his role. Fishburne does not bring his trademark gravitas this time around, and the results are disappointing.

“Ride Along” does manage some fairly well-executed action sequences, although the movie’s biggest explosion is inexplicably gasoline-fueled, recalling the worst of the eighties’ action movies. The movie is nonetheless a continuity nightmare, with lighting and weather conditions changing abruptly in the middle of scenes several times during the movie.

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