RIDE ALONG Review: A Bumpy Ride
I recently reviewed the action film 2 Guns for DVD Verdict. My open is a brief history of the biracial nature of the buddy picture. I cite several films from the 1970s through today, many of which are cop movies. I thought about this after watching this film, but of course there is nothing biracial about the buddies here. The dichotomy of the buddies in buddy cop movies, though, isn’t only defined by race.
In 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy was a con and Nick Nolte a cop. In Beverly Hills Cop (not quite traditionally structured as “buddy,” but certainly containing some of the elements), Murphy is the loose cannon Detroit cop contrasted against uptight, by-the-books detectives Taggart and Rosewood (John Ashton and Judge Reinhold, respectively), and their captain (Ronny Cox). In Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson is a young, widowed, crazy cop and Danny Glover is his older, patriarchal, and sedate partner. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker of the Rush Hour films are from different continents. The same such case of a non-racially based difference can be made for the latest entry in the buddy cop genre, Ride Along, where one of the buddies is a tough, seasoned police veteran and the other is a goofy wannabe.
When Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) isn’t playing a “Call of Duty”-style game with his online friends, he is a security guard at a high school. He is also madly in love with Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter), the woman he would like to marry. His only obstacle to winning Angela’s hand is her overprotective brother, James (Ice Cube). James is a cop who does not think Ben is anywhere near worthy to marry Angela. In an effort to better his lot in life – and his chances of impressing James – Ben applies for, and receives, entry into the Atlanta Police Academy. This doesn’t impress James, but Ben’s (hopefully) future brother-in-law makes the cadet and offer: if Ben spends a day with James riding along on police calls and holds his own, James will give the couple his blessing.
James, though, is involved in more than routine domestics and break-ins. He and his fellow detectives, Santiago and Miggs (John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen, respectively), are hot on the trail of the mysterious Omar (Laurence Fishburne), an elusive arms dealer who is on the verge of making a massive deal with shady foreigners. Despite objections from his lieutenant (Bruce McGill), who thinks the case has hit a dead-end, when the opportunity arises for James to get the jump on Omar, he goes takes a chance … and takes Ben with him. The pre-rookie finds himself involved in more than he bargained for.
Ride Along isn’t so much a buddy cop film as it is a series of sitcom-like scenarios designed for star Hart to assume the persona that has made him wildly popular and one of a very few standup comics to play Madison Square Garden. Although executed within the construct of the film, most of Ben’s actions are merely tasks he must execute so that he can stay out of James’ way. This can work well on a limited basis, but the repetition of “James works while Ben goofs” suggests that director Tim Story and the film’s four screenwriters knew they had a clever idea, but they just weren’t sure how to integrate it into a fully linear narrative.
The other problem this creates is at a franchise level (a sequel is in development with a tentative 2016 release). Because Hart’s comedy relies on schtick, once that schtick gets old, the franchise is over. I know Hart is a hot commodity right now, but so was Andrew Dice Clay once (speaking of Madison Square Garden alum). He also had a franchise potential in 1990’s The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. That film, which is no better or worse than this one, might have failed for other reasons, but it certainly couldn’t have been helped by the Dice Man persona, which was fun for a while – but only a while.
This makes Hart-as-Ben the film’s blessing and curse. As funny as some moments are (his references to the Denzel Wasington starrer Training Day are priceless), his act, as well as the jokes about his height, become tiresome. There was a point when I wondered why James wouldn’t simply deposit Ben in a mailbox to get him out of the way once and for all. Also tiresome is some of Story’s direction. The film opens with a great action sequence centered on James ( sans Ben), and offers a nice visual integration of the credits. But the lack of substance in the film’s story has some scenes – particularly a climactic scene in a warehouse – taking far too long to unfold. That’s not good when your action film is only 99 minutes to begin with.
The film isn’t without its positives. Hart, while not filling the screen with charisma, has genuinely funny moments, and his diminutive size works for certain physical elements of comedy. He also has a sincere tender moment late in the film. It’s too soon to tell, but it hints that like Murphy (Dreamgirls) and Tucker (Silver Linings Playbook) before him, there might be a more serious vein that Hart can tap. Cube, on the other hand, is the rock of the film. While the set pieces are contingent upon Hart’s comedic execution, the whole thing is an empty balloon without Cube anchoring it all as straight man.
The supporting cast is an interesting mix. Leguizamo and Callen mail it in, but McGill is perfectly cast as the cops’ boss, summoning the spirits of so many ’80s police captains and lieutenants before him. Fishburne is excellent as Omar. So much of what the actor has done recently is so stiff and erudite, it’s nice to see him loosen up and go dark. And somebody needs to find the right vehicle for Jay Pharoah, who has a bit part as a street snitch. That guy fills a screen.
Overall, Ride Along was entertaining, helped by a solid soundtrack. However, unlike some buddy cop movies of the past, for better (Lethal Weapon 2) or worse (Another 48 Hrs), I am in no hurry to see a sequel here. This film fulfilled its limited potential and is better left as a single entry in the buddy-cop canon.