Much like the dreary, bitter weather that turns January into a desolate tundra, new releases that appear during this month also typically experience that same deep freeze in terms of quality. Coming off a December awards season push, studios dump lesser movies in hopes that the lack of competition will let cinematic duds score big at the box office because there’s simply nothing else to see. Don’t believe me? I just watched The Legend Of Hercules. Well, not so much “watched” as “sat through an agonizingly embarrassing film that defines what a bad 3D conversion looks like.” January brings a bit of a cinematic Ice Age, and our latest victim is none other than the film I’m here to review, Ride Along.
In this stereotypical buddy comedy, we meet Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), a lowly security guard who learns that his dream of joining the police academy just came true. Proud of his accomplishment, Ben finally feels confident enough to propose to his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter), but first, he has to prove his worthiness to her brother James (Ice Cube). James, being a tough-skinned cop already on the force, thinks Angela is too good for Ben, and would love to see his sister with someone more “honorable,” but after hearing Ben’s news about the police academy, James devises a plan to both test and terrify Ben – a ride along. If Ben can prove he’s a real man, James agrees to accept him. Ben, assuming a lower-key affair, has no idea he’s about to become stuck in the middle of a case James has been obsessing over, and that he’ll be seeing action far sooner than expected – catching James off guard as well.
Referencing the immortal words of former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, Ride Along is the movie we thought it would be. Kevin Hart runs about with the energy of a kindergartener who just drank three Red Bulls and railed a line with Mayor Rob Ford, and Ice Cube plays a rugged lone wolf with acceptance issues. The two butt heads in a “good cop, dumb cop” type scenario, Hart’s character gets in over his head, but in the end everything is perfectly wrapped up with a shiny bow on top. Fast talking, gun pointing, unfathomable police behavior, high pitched squeals, recycled buddy cop moments – meeting expectations isn’t always a bad thing, but when you’re already expecting to worst, confirming your fears validates absolutely nothing.
Blandness aside, I’m finally starting to buy into this Kevin Hart guy. Personally, his stand-up comedy never struck me as brilliant, and his previous acting somehow rubbed me unfavorably, but finally seeing Hart enter a role in which he could dominate screen time, I sat there dumbfounded by the limitless energy this funnyman possessed. Spitting out lightning-quick jokes, Hart brings the same fiery intensity to each scene, and asserts a commanding personality that comedians like Eddie Murphy used to possess. Make any comparisons you want, but as this young man’s career continues blasting off into the stratosphere, I see Kevin Hart as a pint-sized Eddie Murphy, selling out stadiums full of screaming fans and landing roles alongside some of Hollywood’s best. Ride Along may not be for everyone, but emphatic Kevin Hart fans are going to love watching Mighty Kev bounce around like a firecracker on Chinese New Year.
The problem is, despite having Ice Cube fit snugly as a hard-nosed cop, we’ve seen all these jokes before. We’ve seen so many cop films that don’t care about any realistic details. Spark a shootout in a crowded mall with European gangsters? Eh, all you’ll get is a weak tongue-lashing from your Captain and it’s off to the next scene. Protocol? There’s protocol for being a law enforcement officer? Sure, you’re not watching Ride Along for gripping crime dramatics, but with a script so unintentionally silly, it becomes hard to believe there are actually more real cops on the force besides Ice Cube. With strong enough comedic attempts, such blatant professional ignorance can be written off, but when a film already running through the motions of mediocrity continually falls back on a weakly imagined script, not even Kevin Hart’s best delivery can save the day.
Ride Along is the type of audacious “fun” that sparingly presents enough entertainment to help viewers reach an obviously overplayed conclusion, but even with earth-shattering explosions and strip club shootouts, Tim Story struggles to make his latest effort a memorable affair. In an attempt to connect with more tech savvy audiences, the collective script attempts to utilize wartime first-person-shooter humor (think Call of Duty), but these jokes just exemplify random attempts to cash in on pop culture popularity – like a distraction. If you’re not a Kevin Hart fan, this ride will make you about as happy as being picked up by Charles Manson while hitchhiking – OK, I can’t believe I just made that joke. Don’t blame me,Ride Along made me do it – I have to have my fun somehow!
Ride Along is one bad doughnut joke away from being repetitively dismissible, but settles for being a contrived mess of clichés and Call of Duty references.