"Ride Along" Skates By On Charisma Of Kevin Hart

Ice Cube. Kevin Hart. Buddy cop comedy. “Ride Along” practically writes itself. Accordingly, its creators have paid laser-like attention to formula, following a well-worn path to an inevitable destination. Rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube isn’t suited to comedy, but he’s an ideal straight man to Kevin Hart’s broad, self-effacing brand of comedy. Their fans should be satisfied with the results, but in adhering so closely to the blueprint drawn by “Beverly Hills Cop” and its ilk, “Ride Along” fails to capitalize on a real opportunity to revitalize the genre. Alternatively, it could have been much, much worse.

The first act is absolutely feeble, leading off with the most poorly shot and edited chase scene in recent memory. It’s not a surprise – director Tim Story (“Fantastic Four”) has a poor track record with action – but the sequence is so spatially confusing that it might as well have been shot through a kaleidoscope. Moreover, it fails miserably in setting the stage dramatically, the film being entirely laugh-free until Hart enters the picture at the 10-minute mark.

But Hart’s entrance doesn’t immediately signal the number of laughs we’re expecting, with the pic’s horde of screenwriters insisting on setting up a generic storyline in the most laborious way possible. Cube plays James, a hard-boiled Atlanta cop, while Hart plays a good-hearted but infantile security guard, Ben. The latter is intent on winning the approval of the former – not only as cop material, but as brother-in-law material. Ben wants to propose to James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), so James takes the only logical course of action – he decides to haze Ben via ride along.

It’s not until the duo hits the streets that Hart is allowed to do his thing – a garish but undeniably appealing mix of physical comedy and verbal acrobatics. Ice Cube mostly scowls his way through the film, but he capably grounds the film while Hart bounces off the walls. When the duo gets called to a grocery store, things become so absurd that Cube’s even-keeled demeanor is a welcome respite.

When the two predictably become embroiled in a serious case of weapons trafficking, the screenplay again takes a pass at drama, but it fares much better this time, in the wake of Hart’s comedic chaos. While not a fully realized character, Ben is injected with enough life that we can’t help but root for him. Whether its’ because of the actor’s short stature – the butt of many of the film’s jokes – or his lovably manic personality, Hart is a fundamentally likable performer, and that’s the film’s biggest asset.

While a more action-heavy narrative might have served to separate the film from its buddy cop brethren, the lack of thrills is a blessing in disguise. It allows Tim Story to get out of his own way and lets his stars – particularly Hart – take the reigns. A more talented filmmaker might have gotten more juice from this particular screenplay, but it’s mostly as skeletal as its director’s action chops. The pic doesn’t purport to be more than functional, but in the case of two capable leads, it’s just enough. “Ride Along” is no classic, but there are worse ways to spend 2 hours.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: January 17, 2014
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Tim Story
Screenwriter: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language)