Starring Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter, Bruce McGill and John Leguizamo Directed by Tim Story
From Universal Pictures Rated PG-13 100 min.
Ride Along has some serious Hart
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
Through the haze of cliché and absurdity that is Ride Along, comes an endearing performance by Kevin Hart, an actor I’m growing increasingly fond of with each new movie.
Hart, who stands just a smidge over 5 feet — a physical characteristic that plays right into his shtick of misplaced cockiness and faux swagger — is not a terrific actor. Nor is he the funniest or the most versatile. But he’s likable, and that quality goes a long way to smooth out some of the other wrinkles.
Hart takes this likability and laminates it to the soul of Ben Barber, a hapless geek with a big heart and quick wit. Ben is dating Angela (Tika Sumpter), who is a whole head taller than him, but nevermind that — they’re so cute together that their height difference is a testament to their oddball chemistry. Before he can pop the big question to her, Ben feels obligated to ask her brother for permission first. The brother, James (Ice Cube), a hard-boiled police detective on a tough organized crime beat, wants nothing to do with the “pipsqueak,” so he hatches a plan to get Ben on a police ride along, where he’ll prove to him he’s not man enough to marry his sister.
James rigs the ride along from the beginning, including their first call to stop a biker gang from parking in front of a business. Ben strides up to the bikers and makes a valiant effort, but the deck is stacked against him. Some of these scenarios are tirelessly rote; think of every Kevin James performance and reduce the stupidity by a fifth. I did like a bit in the police station, where James makes Ben fill out a release form — “This says that if you take a blow to the chest, get stuck by a Hep-C needle or eat a bullet from the stress that the department is not liable for your dumb ass.” Ice Cube, ironically playing against his miscreant gangbanger Doughboy in Boyz N the Hood, is a reliable comedy force, but not an exceptional one. I did get a laugh when he said late in the movie, “It was a good day,” a call back to his biggest music hit.
The movie is mostly about James and Ben coming to trust and rely on each other, if not for their common interest, Angela, then for their survival on the mean streets. But the film introduces a plot point at the beginning that actually has a worthwhile payoff: James is tracking an elusive criminal mastermind named Omar, a man no one has actually seen. This, of course, leads to a scene later when Ben has to pretend to be Omar to get James out of a deadly trap. And then the real kingpin shows up — I’ll let you discover who plays Omar.
Mostly, though, the movie serves as vehicle for Hart, who frequently feigns a wacky tough-guy persona to hype up his own sense of bravery, which usually ends with him falling down or taking a bullet to the shin. He has this curious habit of making rubbery faces as he mimes profound exasperation, like he smelled something foul. His humor is rooted in too much slapstick — think of the black-and-white “before” scenes in TV infomercials — but it’s also occasionally witty and smart. I have no excuse for the film’s overreliance on Ben’s video game that he plays early in the movie. It serves as the backbone to many of the jokes, including one where he wanders through a gunfight looking for ammo on the ground because that’s what happens in his video game. It’s one of the dopier Mall Cop-like moments, but it comes and goes fairly quickly.
By no means is Ride Along the movie you should be seeing this weekend. It’s a forgettable comedy filled with many disposable performances and one rather silly one. If you do happen to catch it, you’re likely to come out thinking what I did: “Kevin Hart just made a mediocre movie sorta charming"