Ride Along introduces us to Atlanta cop James Payton (Ice Cube), an authoritative and stubbornly independent officer of the law who has nothing but contempt for diminutive, fast-talking high school security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), who’s stolen the heart of James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter). When Ben is accepted to the police academy, he decides to ask James for his blessing to propose to Angela, which the latter agrees to give Ben on the condition that he accompany James for a day at work (read: a “ride along”) and prove himself worthy.
James takes advantage of every opportunity he has to make Ben miserable and convince him that he’s not cut out to wield a badge, while secretly investigating further into a dangerous case. Will Ben manage to impress his girlfriend’s over-protective brother and prove that he has what it takes to uphold the law? (Answer: Take a wild guess.)
Ride Along is directed by Tim Story, who specializes in broad entertainment, be it the quirky action-comedy Taxi, good-natured dramedy Barbershop or the cartoony Fantastic Four movies from the mid-aughts. His new variation on the buddy-cop formula has the occasional satisfying and/or funny moment, but is mostly just a mashup of watered-down action/comedy tropes (think Rush Hour) and uninspired slapstick that is less imaginative than that featured in last year’s female buddy-cop comedy The Heat.
Cube and Hart turn out to be an okay pairing, though it’s really the latter who deserves the credit for making this union even a half-success. Cube constantly scowls and drops PG-13 expletives throughout Ride Along‘s running time, yet he does so with little enthusiasm or charisma; that James is also an unlikeable and belligerent maverick who’s borderline sociopathic (think John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard) makes him fail as the empathetic straight-man. Ironic, given how Cube the rapper probably would’ve rallied against portraying this abuse of authority for comical effect back in his youth – but that’s another discussion.
As for Hart, he makes an admirable effort to sell every lame joke, slapstick routine or zany scenario that Ben is given, but his palpable energy doesn’t save the movie – though it does make it go down easy. Part of the problem is that it feels as though Hart needed to have an R-Rated or edgier PG-13 action/comedy template for him to flex his funnyman muscles properly, like what Eddie Murphy had in Beverly Hills Cop. Unfortunately, the Ride Along script written by Greg Coolidge (Sorority Boys), Jason Mantzoukas (Childrens Hospital) and writing duo Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (R.I.P.D.) instead saddles Hart with bland wisecracks about his height, sensitive nature and “hammer.”
That the Ride Along screenplay is predictable to a fault doesn’t come as a surprise, but the supporting characters (which can provide buddy-cop movies with more “fizz”) aren’t given enough idiosyncrasy or charm to make up for the difference. John Leguizamo (Kick-Ass 2) can be an engaging screen presence, but he and Bryan Callen (The Hangover Part II) are stuck playing James’ personality-less peers, and exist primarily to advance the plot whenever called upon. As for Tika Sumpter (Sparkle) as Angela: she’s there to serve as eye candy and not much else.
Seasoned character actor Bruce McGill (Lincoln) portrays James’ disapproving boss Lt. Brooks, but he plays the role oddly serious rather than hamming it up. That goes for the cast as a whole, including cameos by the likes of Jacob Latimore (Black Nativity) and a special appearance that I won’t spoil (avoid the film’s IMDb page if you don’t want to know) – they all seem to be going through the motions playing either generic archetypes or banal caricatures. Well, again, save for Hart, that is.
Story is able to stage the movie’s few action sequences with satisfactory flair, though he and editor Craig Alpert (The Campaign) prove unable to infuse the multiple comedy set pieces with much energy or creative spark. By the time the film winds down to the inevitable third-act narrative payoffs and Cube/Hart complete their character arcs, Ride Along has shown to be little more than a forgettable addition to the buddy-cop genre.
Still, Kevin Hart manages to prove here that he’s deserving of a better comedy vehicle to showcase his talents. So, if Ride Along does perform well at the box office, at least that’ll improve the chances of Hart getting another opportunity to breakout in the future.
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for Ride Along:
Ride Along is now playing in theaters. It is 100 minutes long and Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language.