Review: 'Ride Along'

It would be dangerous to confuse a film like "Ride Along" with a real movie, though that sounds much more negative than it's meant. No, what "Ride Along" actually is, mostly for the better, is a forum for Kevin Hart to be the best stand-up comedian he can be. And when he is that Kevin Hart, working at a mile a minute, always on the verge of exasperation, constantly examining new ways to deliver a joke, "Ride Along" is an extremely watchable quasi-movie. When it's bogged down by little peccadillos such as story, relationships, or logic, well, it's clearly not half as good. The great fallacy of the Kevin Hart experience seems to be that there needs to be a "real" movie packaged around him, as if both the fajita tortilla and fillings should be the same thickness. Not so! The joy of Hart's comedy is the constancy, and the less plot you put around him the better of you'll be, throwback spoofs like "Airplane" and "Spaceballs" coming to mind as proper vehicles for the level of silliness a Hart project should aim for. To that end, "Ride Along" is a strong recommend when Hart is talking, but merely a mediocre attempt at a movie when he's not.

Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) is smitten with Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter). He wants to marry her, but there's only one problem, and that problem is her brother, Detective James Payton (Ice Cube). Though most brothers are protective, James takes it to a whole new level, clearly of the opinion that Ben is worthless and not at all deserving of his little sister. However, Ben has a plan to impress James (and his special lady), he'll join the police academy and gain James' respect on his own turf. Everything is going swimmingly as Ben gains acceptance into the police academy (which, come to think of it, would be another great Kevin Hart film), and this after working as a high school security guard. When James hears the news he comes up with a plan on the spot, to take Ben out on a police ride along, ostensibly to humiliate / dissuade him from pursuing Angela any further. Thus, the concept is born, and "Ride Along" is in effect.

From here on out we're be treated to a series of comedy sketches – watch Kevin Hart get chesty with huge bikers, watch Kevin Hart try to arrest a naked man, and most of these moments do elicit laughter. In between these moments there are trouble spots though, because the "filler" is the same old conceit every time out, with Ice Cube looking at Hart, angry, and Hart trying to impress him, but to no avail. The reasons these moments fall so flat is that it's immediately clear Ice Cube won't be allowed to like Kevin's character until the "critical" juncture, making the rest of "Ride Along" into a bit of a slog just to get to that scene. Still, it's clear Hart is a comedian in ascension, and Ice Cube was at least well chosen as the person to grimace at him. Cube, for his part, emotes a macho solidness that's hard to come by, he's all at once the guy who would insult, shoot, or knock you out. That's range!

Logically, "Ride Along" is your standard paint-by-numbers cop buddy comedy. The guys will learn to work together, sure okay, and the very thing that seems like Ben's weakness will be the one thing that bails them out in the end (stop me if you've ever seen a movie before). Tika Sumpter's character, Angela, is given precious little to do besides sport the tightest of shorts, but when Cube, Hart, and Sumpter are on the screen together there's at least some respite from the incessant "I'll glare, you prattle on" dichotomy that most of the rest of the movie sticks to.

Recent films such as "21 Jump Street" (in which Ice Cube also played the guy who glared a lot) have done well to have both main characters carry the comedy; by choosing not to place each protagonist into either the "manic" or "depressive" box, the entire film was smoothed out, with the result being the jokes could come from many different angles. But at its very best, "Ride Along" evokes glimmers of "Lethal Weapon" or "Beverly Hills Cop". Those films were more serious in tone, but both gave ample opportunities for the straight man / crazy man comedic set-up that they're shooting so hard for here. Still, it seems apparent that "Ride Along" would have been better off either embracing the more serious tone (and taking an R rating) or just playing it much less serious overall ("Police Academy"). By middling it, going right through the goal posts of its genre, "Ride Along" ends up being a little more mushy and typical than it should have been given the great advantage with which the film began.

SCORE: 6.3 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and has been on a police ride along. It was awesome.