Silver Screen: Ride Along **1/2
If it seems like Kevin Hart is in all of the movies, that’s because it’s half true. There isn’t a Motion Picture Association of America mandate that Hart’s presence is a prerequisite for distribution— not yet— but he is currently on a streak of one feature film per month: December’s Grudge Match and January’s Ride Along, to be followed up by the Valentine’s Day offering About Last Night (the second adaptation of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago). Later this year he’ll return for the sequel to Think Like a Man, and he’s listed as appearing in Nick Cannon’s directorial debut School Dance, scheduled for a late-2014 release.
Hart has earned his ubiquity by consistently turning in funny performances that significantly elevate whatever material he’s working with. There’s no better example of this than Ride Along, a benignly bad movie that he makes entertaining through sheer force of will. Almost every other element of the movie is unpardonably lazy, but Hart adds incredible value to the production through a nonstop barrage of verbal asides and subtle— and sometimes not-so-subtle— physical gestures. This is a forgettable movie in every way but one, which is that it cements Hart’s status as a real-deal movie star.
The premise for Ride Along is sweet and simple. Hart stars as Ben, a softhearted, motormouthed security guard whose dreams of becoming a real police officer are mostly manifested through first-person-shooter videogames. That’s enough for his beautiful girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter), but not for her overbearing brother James (Ice Cube), a hard-nosed cop familiar to anyone who’s ever seen any cop movie, ever. To prove himself to James and earn his blessing to be Angela’s husband, Ben agrees to spend a day on the streets on a ridealong.
Let’s run through the cop cliché list. James doesn’t have a partner and prefers working alone. He’s a rule-breaker who follows his own code, causing property damage and violating suspects’ rights because he doesn’t have time for procedure. His chubby, red-faced captain constantly harps on his misbehavior and recklessness, but he’s got to go along with it because James is such a damn good cop.
Speaking of police, it should be a felony offense to write a character so egregiously unoriginal. The only thing novel about James is that he’s played by a founding member of the original-gangsta hip-hop group NWA, who notoriously rhapsodized about shooting down the five-oh in one of their famous songs. We should be used to this sort of thing by now, what with former pimp Ice-T (no relation) having spent a decade or so on the other side of the pretend law on Special Victims Unit— ex-rappers playing cops is the modern equivalent of old hippies who turned into Reaganites when they entered a new tax bracket. But it’s a bummer to see the guy who so memorably and menacingly played Doughboy in Boyz n the Hood smash citizens’ faces like he was in a community theater restaging of the Rodney King video. In a world where Bob Dylan does car commercials, I guess we can’t expect much more, but it’s nauseating rather than amusing when Cube cracks a meta-reference that “Today was a good day”— not because he didn’t have to use his AK, but for his 401(k).
The boilerplate plot might well have been computer-generated, or at the very least was concocted via particularly uncreative MadLibs. It’s all but impossible to distinguish from the storylines of, say, Cop Out or The Heat, two more by-the-numbers movies redeemed only by their stars (there Tracy Morgan and the fantastic Melissa McCarthy did all the heavy lifting, respectively). James is on the train of an elusive kingpin named Omar, whose face has never been seen. One of the movie’s few real surprises is Omar’s eventual revelation; the actor involved is the movie’s only pleasant surprise.
The rest is up to Hart, who mugs and riffs and improvs with the calculated fury of a plate-spinner. He’s warm and terrifically funny. The director and frequent Hart collaborator Tim Story should be sure to send him a big fruit basket and card for Christmas; he makes everyone around him look better. The movie might not be all that good, but Hart is aces.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.