Ride Along (2014) / Action-Comedy

MPAA rated : PG-13 for violence, sexual content and brief strong language
Running time: 100 min.

Cast: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter, John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen, Bruce McGill, Laurence Fishburne
Small role: Jay Pharoah, Angie Stone

Director: Tim Story
Screenplay: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Review published January 20, 2014

Ride Along is a formula buddy-cop movie, which means we're going to get strongly mismatched personalities annoying one another for choice laughs in between a usually tired plot against gun-toting bad guys.

Here, motor-mouthed comedian Kevin Hart (Let Me Explain, Grudge Match) stars as Ben Barber, a high school security guard who dreams of getting to use his prodigious skills at combat-based video games to become a real-life cop, something that would please his hot and long-suffering girlfriend Angela Payton (Sumpter, Salt) to no end.  Angela's older brother James (Ice Cube, Are We Done Yet?) just so happens to be the kind of cop that Ben wants to be, but he disapproves of her relationship with Ben, a guy he views as a complete waste of her time.  When James finds out Ben has just been accepted into a police academy, he sets about giving the diminutive casanova a taste of what real police work is like, inviting him to do a 'ride along', and he sets things up so that the dispatcher only gives them the most annoying cases out in the Atlanta streets.  What starts out as a life lesson in the danger of being a cop soon has the duo fighting for their lives when they stumble into the middle of a generic major crime plot.

It's not a good sign when a mostly ad-libbed comedy without much premise or depth is credited to four screenwriters, which is usually a sure indicator that it has been through rewrite hell.  It's especially a bad thing when not one of those four screenwriters is able to give the actors any funny lines in the movie except to try to present scenarios in which they might be able to improvise their way into something (hopefully) hilarious. And then you have Tim Story (Fantastic Four, FF2) at the helm, whose main job always seems to try to stay out of the way and just roll film when his actors are riffing against one another, even when they go to places that are a comedic wasteland.  That the director of the abysmal buddy film Taxi is allowed to make another may be the biggest head scratcher among many.

Ride Along isn't without its share of laughs, but you might be surprised at how many long stretches there are in which laughs don't really present themselves, whether because the opportunities aren't there, or because the quality of the gags just aren't very funny. With most odd-coupling comedies, the best and funniest parts are when the two leads are together, insulting one another.  It does hold true here as well, as the interplay between a sneering Ice Cube and a squirrelly Kevin Hart are where the lion's share of laughs can be found. 

However, they aren't together as much as you'd think, mostly because James decides to drive him to the crime locations and let Ben try to handle things on his own with nothing to go on but a police jacket and his mouth. But in this PG-13 environment, Hart has to keep his humor mostly clean, which seriously handcuffs his ability to rely on his go-to crassness when trying to put others in their own set of handcuffs.  Melissa McCarthy uncensored in the very similar buddy-cop vehicle, The Heat scored some knee-slappers, but there are no big, memorable laughs in Ride Along -- just a few mild chuckles mostly generated by the character reactions to their situations.  In a way, at the same time as his character is dropped into scenarios to see if he can think on his feet to prove he can be a good cop, so too is Hart dropped off into movie situations to see if he can ad-lib his way into being a comedy lead.  In both cases, the results are mixed.

In short, your ability to be entertained by Ride Along will likely be dependent on how much you enjoy the two leads, as there really isn't anything else inspiring in terms of interesting characters, dialogue or plot.  Even a slumming Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel, The Colony)  looks like he barely bothers to take off his bathrobe to play the film's ultimate heavy.  This comedy relies far too much on the ability of Kevin Hart to hold up the laughs, and though he is certainly energetic and often fun to watch from a performance standpoint (even if it is mostly one note), he never elevates the material in the way Eddie Murphy could in his hey day.  It's a lazy, uninspired effort; not without merit, but definitely nothing one who hasn't been hankering for Rush Hour 4 should go out of their way for.

-- Followed by Ride Along 2

 Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo