Movie review: “Ride Along”

ride along

Ride Along

dir. Tim Story

Release Date: Jan 17, 14

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The rise of Kevin Hart proves that every generation gets the Chris Tucker it first needs, and later on deserves. The fast-talking, inhumanly energetic comedian is a breakout success in stand-up, and one of his biggest attributes is his ability to merge traditional slapstick and “Women be talking!” bits with appearances in Judd Apatow movies and a total willingness to lampoon his own place in pop culture. It’s sad that Ride Along, among Hart’s most prominent leadings roles, never asks him to use either of those skills for any real length of time. It’s a star vehicle without the substance, a film designed to match Hart’s double-time delivery with Ice Cube’s signature glower that didn’t bother to give either of them anything funny to say.

The perfect odd couple, Ben (Hart) is a die-hard gamer who works as a high school security guard while trying to get into Atlanta’s police academy. James (Cube) is a hard-nosed detective who doesn’t play by the rules and has trouble letting other people into his life. They’re united by James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter), whose hand Ben wants in marriage. James agrees to take Ben on a ride along with the intention of proving Ben unfit for both police work and his sister, but Ben ends up being surprisingly useful with respect to a long-gestating case of James’, and lessons are learned, and you probably know where all of this is headed.

To a point Ride Along is an interesting case study of what happens when the typical stock roles of the buddy cop movie get flipped. James is the consummate tough-shit action hero in every way, and yet Ben is the audience’s clear point of identification, the intelligent and well-meaning guy who’s also prone to letting off a high-pitched shriek in a legitimately dangerous situation or being intimidated to the point of emotional meltdown. That flipping of the script, however, ultimately does little to redeem a movie that inexplicably spends far more of its runtime on tried-and-true action sequences than the comedy that would set it apart.

Ride Along recalls last summer’s The Heat, but is sorely lacking in what saved Paul Feig’s earlier film from failure: a roster of charismatic performances that made an unappealing script slightly more memorable. By contrast, if you take a look at the posters for Ride Along, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. Cube is asked to do little more than glare, torture Ben all day long and declare at one point that “Today was a good day” with a glint in his eye. Hart does his damnedest to inject some life into the film, but to increasingly diminished and deafening returns. Hart jerks around like Bill Cosby on meth, insults masculine women in biker garb, treats real-life shootouts like an online first-person shooter and tries to get off the maximum amount of one liners possible in each scene, but Tim Story’s plain direction does him no favors. It’s the vision of a man who knows he’s in an unfunny comedy and trying desperately to make it so.

For a Hart vehicle, Ride Along is surprisingly unfunny, and not just because of the number of jokes that fail to land. It’s also barely structured as a comedy for a sizable chunk of its running time, instead cramming jokes into its overlong action setpieces. (One in particular, in which Ben poses as a major crime lord, runs on for so long that it feels like even the movie can’t believe it’s still going on.) It’s the same opposites-attract comedy you’ve seen for decades, with the latest update in actors, and no amount of overexertion can distract from that. And when your film’s best ideas for running gags include tranny jokes and an overprotective brother breaking into his sister’s house repeatedly, you might want to go back to the drawing board.