‘Ride Along’: Cop car takes Kevin Hart on familiar routes
By RICHARD ROEPER Movies Columnist January 16, 2014 1:30PM
Doubtful that Ben (Kevin Hart, left) deserves to marry his sister, Atlanta cop James (Ice Cube) tests him by taking him out on his police rounds in the junky, sloppy “Ride Along.” | UNIVERSAL PICTURES
‘RIDE ALONG’ ★1⁄2
James Ice Cube
Ben Kevin Hart
Santiago John Leguizamo
Lt. Brooks Bruce McGill
Angela Tika Sumpter
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Tim Story and written by Greg Coolidge and Jason Mantzoukas and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language.). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: February 18, 2014 6:07AM
What a junky, sloppy movie this is.
With the exception of a single scene, “Ride Along” never tries to do anything original with the mismatched buddy-cop format perfected by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon” and Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in “48 Hrs.”
The first “48 Hrs.” movie was released 32 — that’s thirty-two — years ago. The first “Lethal Weapon” came out in 1987. Since then, we’ve seen hundreds of variations on the same theme — and few have been as uninspired and depressingly dreadful as this one.
Ice Cube is in full snarl-and-growl mode as James, a streetwise and sometimes unorthodox Atlanta cop. We suspect “Ride Along” is going to be on cruise control from the get-go, what with James facing off with generic, Euro-trash, gun-wielding thugs, which leads to a shootout, which leads to a wild car chase, which leads to a barely contrite James in the office of his supervising lieutenant (Bruce McGill), who of course reads James the riot act and tells him he’s on a short leash.
Where have we seen all this before? Oh, that’s right — in a hundred other movies.
Actor/comedian Kevin Hart, who can be fall-down funny at times and just trying-too-hard funny on other occasions, at least gets points for infusing boundless energy into his role as Ben Barber, a pint-sized school security guard and video game enthusiast who’s living with James’ gorgeous little sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), who, like most girlfriends in buddy-cop movies, wears skimpy outfits around the house and seems to have no life other than expressing her love for her man, worrying about her man, and waiting around in case a villain needs to take her hostage.
(If “Ride Along” tells us what Angela does for a living, I missed it. What I do know is she and Ben are cohabitating in a fabulous, spacious, beautifully appointed loft, and I’m thinking Ben’s security guard salary wouldn’t cover the assessments.)
The best scene in the film comes early, when Ben stops a young basketball player from ditching school and drinking with some delinquents by laying out the way things are going to play out if the kid doesn’t get back in the gym. Hart delivers his monologue with razor-sharp precision and the perfect payoff, giving us small hope “Ride Along” just might continue to surprise us along the way.
Here’s the contrived setup. Ben wants to become a cop so he can impress James and win his blessing to marry Angela. James thinks Ben is a clown — mostly because Ben is a clown — so he comes up with a plan to scare Ben away from becoming a cop and from marrying Angela: He’ll take Ben on a “ride along.”
Not so sure James has thought this plan all the way through. With the help of some of his cop buddies, James creates some scenarios designed to annoy and frustrate Ben — but in the meantime James also is closing in on a mythic gun-runner known only as “Omar,” so it might not be a great idea to take the kid sister’s video-game-obsessed boyfriend on a ride-along when you might find yourself in, you know, potentially fatal situations.
I know. This isn’t supposed to be “Copland” or “Serpico.” It’s a live-action cartoon, with Hart trying to milk laughs by wrestling with a half-naked giant of a man who’s covered in honey (don’t ask) or trash-talking his way out of tense confrontations. The script, which is credited to four writers and feels like something written by committee, has Ben behaving like a wimpering coward in one scene and a decisive hero in the next. It’s not so much character arc as character whiplash.
Time and again, “Ride Along” comes up with a clichéd setup — and then blows the payoff. Even the easiest of confrontational scenes, with the fun-sized Ben facing off against a crew of towering bikers, just … fizzles out. When in doubt, “Ride Along” just has James and Ben jumping into the car and zooming off to the next scene.
(About that car. When Ben first sees it, he launches into an adoring description of its characteristics that would seem over the top in a commercial. Talk about your dual-cam product placement. Lingering visuals and the star touting the car’s assets.)
Kevin Hart has plenty of talent. Director Tim Story knows how to make a terrific movie; he helmed the first “Barbershop,” which featured one of Ice Cube’s better performances. Supporting players McGill, John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne are more than capable performers. We’ve got a good team here.
But what a terrible game they played this time out. Even the comedic epilogue is embarrassing.