Saturday, January 18, 2014


Ride Along is a fish-out-of-water buddy cop comedy with the theoretically funny twist of one of the bickering cops not being a cop. It’s not exactly a new twist on the formula. We’ve seen that dynamic before, played for laughs in films of all kinds, including Die Hard with a Vengeance. In Ride Along, a wimpy security guard (Kevin Hart) agrees to go on patrol with a tough, no-nonsense, breaking-all-the-rules-because-he-knows-best cop (Ice Cube) because he’s dating the man’s sister (Tika Sumpter) and wants to be seen as worthy. The script, which has been cobbled together by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (they of R.I.P.D.) with Greg Coolidge and Jason Mantzoukas, runs through the typical buddy comedy clich├ęs, starting with a scene like something from 2010’s The Other Guys and coasting into an investigation that’s reminiscent of last summer’s The Heat. Every step of the way, the movie coasts on the energy of putting two actors playing opposites bouncing off of each other, getting under each other’s skin, and eventually learning to like each other and work well as a team because, come on, it’s what this kind of movie is.

Cube scowls and Hart shrieks as they work their way through a series of comic sequences. It’s everything their screen presences would have you expect. Think for a second about what the movie might’ve been if they switched parts, with the bulky, glowering Cube as the shivering civilian and the diminutive Hart the blustering seen-it-all confident cop. I’m not saying it’d be a better movie – it’d almost certainly be dismissed as miscast – but at least it’d throw a curveball into its stiffly forced wackiness. It limps around on generic plotting while the actors are only as funny as the off-the-shelf parts of the screenplay allow them to be. Hart stammers and hyperventilates and flings himself into physical bits while Cube growls and gets down to business as he tries to get actual work done. As they encounter typical police work – illegally parked vehicles, drunk and disorderly conduct – Cube keeps Hart distracted and humiliated at every turn.

This thin material certainly isn’t helped by how unhelpful Tim Story’s direction is. It’s just not funny – flat, inexpressive and doing absolutely nothing to help punch up the performer’s timing or augment tepidly humorous scenarios with little bits of visual teasing. For a guy who has spent his career shooting comedies (Barbershop and Think Like a Man), action comedies (Taxi), and light action (two almost-instantly forgotten Fantastic Four movies), he has very little action or comedy in his sense of framing. His is a visual sense that’s clean, professional, and wholly impersonal. It’s sturdy I suppose, but when put to use on a script so thuddingly obvious and jokes that are more miss than hit, it’s not enough. A joke in which Hart mistakenly identifies a woman biker as a man could be a funny joke on him, but the way it’s cut together makes it seem all too ugly a joke on her.

Speaking of ugly, Ride Along seems to find gun violence a whole lot funnier than I do. It’s so light and middling a comedy that skirting around its bleaker comedic impulses makes it seem a little on the icky side. Take these two punchlines. One comes after Hart has, in the process of threatening a suspect with a gun, shot a man in the shoulder. He says, “I thought the safety was on!” I’m sorry if an innocent man accidentally shot (even in what is clearly meant to be played off as nonlethal) doesn’t start me laughing. Then there’s a scene in a gun range when Hart shoots a high-powered shotgun and the kick launches him violently backwards into a wall. “Those should be banned!” he wails, the joke seemingly that he’s not tough enough to handle it, what with his knowledge of firearms limited to violent video games. It seems to me the real joke is that, what with our nation’s dysfunctional relationship to firepower, use of such weapons probably should be constrained, and yet that’ll never happen.

For the most part, though, Ride Along is on cruise control, too light and forgettably formulaic to get riled up over one way or the other. It’s not just the tough cop, outmatched wannabe cop, and the sweet, patient, sure to be third-act-threatened girlfriend. There are standard cop movie characters everywhere, like a gruff lieutenant (Bruce McGill), who doesn’t have the turn-over-your-gun-and-badge scene, but might as well have, and two wisecracking partners (John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen) who push along the investigation while Cube’s preoccupied with his prospective brother-in-law’s failings. There’s not a single unpredictable moment in its entirety, up to and including a terrific cameo appearance in the final stretch that’s been spoiled 80 minutes earlier by listing the actor in question in the opening credits. I suppose it would’ve been too much to ask for this autopilot work of formula picture to have even one welcome surprise.

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