Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ride Along

Ride Along
Dir. Tim Story

2.5 out of 5

Imagine, if you will, the unlikely convergence of Training Day and Meet the Parents, and you might envision something like Ride Along, the latest benchmark in Ice Cube's decade-long mission to translate his tough guy bonafides into the language of comedy.  Here, Cube fills the Denzel/DeNiro role as James, an antisocial Atlanta cop and the tormentor of nice guy Ben (Kevin Hart), a diminutive police academy rookie in a long-term relationship with James' gorgeous sister Angela (Tika Sumpter).  Desperate to prove his worth to his imposing potential-brother-in-law, Ben agrees to accompany James on a single day's patrol, eagerly anticipating the chance to live out his heroic video game fantasies.  James, however, has a plan to disabuse Ben of his delusions and show him where he truly ranks within the family.

Ride Along is a textbook case of "two names on a poster" marketing.  The film's plot - from a script credited to four different writers - is mere window dressing for Hart's manic man-child shtick and Cube's gruff, glowering reactions.  Ben rarely seems to notice (or perhaps doesn't mind) that he's the butt of an elaborate joke.  He's an oblivious attention hound, but he's also a genuinely kind-hearted person who'll do anything to earn James' respect - even if it means wrestling a belligerent grocery store patron covered in honey.  Ride Along gives Hart plenty of opportunities to steal scenes, and he's mostly up to the challenge of making his eagerness to please seem sweet instead of wearying.

But while Hart is suitably hammy, Ride Along could use more meat on its bones.  The laughs dry up as the wacky pranks and hijinks are tabled in favor of the movie's action subplot involving Serbian arms dealers and a shadowy criminal figure known as "Omar."  While these scenes lead to a novel use for Ben's infinite braggadocio after James is captured by the bad guys, director Tim Story plays his cards far too modestly, babying the audience through a predictable series of action-comedy tropes.  As a latecomer to the ranks of recent comedies poking fun at the buddy cop formula, it would be nice if Ride Along aspired to clear the bar set by films like The Other Guys or 21 Jump Street.  Instead, it forces a tired template and an oddly neutered sense of humor onto a project designed to do little more than showcase the personalities of its stars, ironically content with the type of humdrum familiarity that its outsized, risk-taking protagonists would never abide. 

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