A film review by Craig J. Koban April 18, 2014 


2014, R, 100 mins.


Kevin Hart as Ben  /  Tika Sumpter as Angela  /  Ice Cube as James  /  John Leguizamo as Santiago  /  Bruce McGill as Lt. Brooks

Directed by Tim Story  /  Written by Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi

Iíve seen so many bloody versions of the buddy/cop film that, at this stage in my life, it will take a really special kind of genre film like it to win me over.  

Alas, RIDE ALONG is not one of those films.  Itís a police procedural/action comedy that feels, all throughout its running time, like it were made of spare and regurgitated factory parts from countless other similar films that came before it, and better ones at that.  At face value, I can certainly see what the makers were attempting here Ė an amusingly retooled version of TRAINING DAY Ė but there are very little attempts here to brazenly stray away from worn-out and overused formulas and conventions.  That, and for a buddy/cop action comedy, RIDE ALONG is criminally bereft of actual laughs and action. 

This achingly familiar and contrived story concerns two would-be brothers-in-law, James Payton (Ice Cube) and Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), the former being a trash talking, no-nonsense, and rule breaking Atlanta cop that has been desperately trying to track a nefarious crime kingpin known as ďOmarĒ for years without many leads.  Predictably, as is the case with an infinite number of previous cop films, Jamesí lieutenant (Bruce McGill) is one of those obligatory ďhates his rebellious underlinesĒ authority figures that is very prone to taking James off the case at a momentís notice.  Now, as for Ben, heís a motor-mouthed, insecure, and bumbling security guard with aspirations of making it on the police force.  He also happens to be seriously dating Jamesí sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), and wishes to prove his worth to James before asking for her hand in marriage.  

Of course, proving his worth means further proving that he has what it takes to make it as a police officer, and by all accounts, Ben barely seems capable of holding a gun, let alone firing one.  James decides that perhaps the best way for Ben to show his true colors would be to allow for him to join him on a ride along for one day as James prowls the streets for crooks and, in particular, more clues as to Omarís next move and whereabouts.  Without missing a storytelling beat, the whole ride along seems to be one sabotaging ploy by James after another to quickly discredit Benís worthiness, but Jamesí plan to make Ben look like a schmuck are curtailed when Omar makes an appearance and threatens both of their lives. 



I will politely get this out of the way first: I kind of like Kevin Hart.  I do.  Comparisons of him to a young Eddie Murphy are quite apt, as both have a dizzyingly fast-talking demeanor and mischievous energy that make them innately likeable.  Iíve seen Hart carry the lionís share of hearty laughs in some previous comedies that were in desperate need of some (like last yearís GRUDGE MATCH) and he certainly has a manner of electrifying even the most comatose of scenes.  Heís rather well placed opposite of the growl-heavy and perpetually stone-faced Ice Cube, who knows when to lay back in scenes and allow his on-screen partner to let loose.  Ice Cubeís low simmering intensity is a nice foil to Hartís capricious tomfoolery.

Yet, for Peteís sake, why are such decent actors left to wallow in such trite, predictable, and cockamamie odd-couple films such as this?  There are very little, if any, attempts made whatsoever to take some interesting paths for these characters, or even some bold and refreshing ones at that.  You just know that through the course of the narrative that the hateful and distrustful James will have an emotional thawing towards Ben and you just know that Ben will somehow, in ways that only he can muster, prove his worth to the highly demanding James.  Also, you just know that James will be one of those ultra-creepy overprotective brother figures that will cater to the every safety need of his sibling.  Oddly enough, Jamesí obsessive tendencies towards Angela are borderline unsavory and left a bad taste in my mouth.  In this day and age, do assertive, intelligent, and independent minded women need their brother's ďokayĒ to marry someone?  Really? 

RIDE ALONG was bafflingly directed by Tim Story, who previously made the two FANTASTIC FOUR films, so you would think that he would be able to harness RIDE ALONGís blend of comedy and action better than he has here.  Heís not assisted at all by the screenplay, which is the product of Ė let me count Ė not one, not two, not three, but four writers, all of whom apparently have taken great expense at cherry picking the most generic genre elements they could find and throw into a mixing bowl, expecting an end result that feels brash and new.  To be fair, there are a few scenes here and there that generate some chuckles (like one sly moment at a police gun range that builds to a moment of Ben harnessing a large shotgun with hilarious results), but the script fails at finding any more moments of pure innovation for the filmís talented stars.  By the time the film reaches a climax and Omarís identity is revealed, itís supposed to elicit surprised reactions in the audience.  Yet, if one simply just looked at the filmís opening credits of stars and paid attention to who has appeared and who hasnít, then Omarís identity becomes painfully anti-climatic. 

Another thing: why is this film PG-13?  When did it become a ďthingĒ in the industry for filmmakers to feel burdened into making a more audience friendly, ticket sales supportive genre film like this when the underlining material deserves an R-rating?  I just don't know.  Perhaps the only thing that would have made RIDE ALONG more paradoxically tolerable would have been for it to more fully harness its inherent tawdriness and allow its stars to really cut loose in the dialogue department.  Too much of this film just feels pathetically watered down.  I think back to classic examples of this genre that did work, like MIDNIGHT RUN and how films like it held nothing back in the manner its characters were colorfully and endearingly profane.  Hell, even films like last yearís THE HEAT Ė a rare female centric version of this male dominated genre that I greatly enjoyed Ė embraced itís R-rating like a badge of honor.  RIDE ALONE could learn a thing or two from films like it. 

If you are a fan of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, then I think that youíll find RIDE ALONG passably enjoyable.  As for the rest of us that donít worship at their altars, the film is a listless and boring affair thatís instantly forgettable.  Itís bland filmmaking in a paint-by-numbers kind of manner.  Actually, that descriptor for RIDE ALONG is an insult to paint-by-numbers kits.  Sorry.  My bad.

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