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Watch Ride Along Online In Blake Snyder’s popular screenwriting how-to book Save the Cat!, written way back in 2005, he repeatedly cites the then-recently-sold spec script Ride Along as a movie with a near-perfect concept. Though he admits to never having read the actual script, Snyder notes the predictable, promising beauty of the film’s logline — a scaredy-cat teacher has to spend a day riding alongside his girlfriend’s overprotective and aggressive cop brother. Apparently, it was so good that it’s taken nearly a decade of rewrites and re-tinkerings to finally get Ride Along to the screen; the finished film has four credited screenwriters, and presumably many more uncredited ones And after all that, what have we got? An Ice Cube and Kevin Hart comedy that will probably be in a Rite-Aid discount bin in about six months. Ze sausage, it iz delicious, no?
There have been a few changes to that allegedly perfect concept along the way. The risk-averse teacher is now Ben Barber (Hart), a school security guard who wants to join the police force. He’s still in love with James Payton’s (Cube) sister (the never-not-stunning Tika Sumpter), and he still wants to marry her. And loose-cannon cop James still thinks Ben is a wimp and a loser, and wants to teach him a lesson — and so, he drags him along one day as they answer various bizarre police dispatch calls. But, perhaps to accommodate Hart’s blustery, motormouth skills, Ben has now been refashioned from your typical milquetoast into someone a bit harder to pin down — the kind of guy who will talk a good game and throw himself into a dangerous situation, only to cower away once things get physical and his teeny-tiny body is in danger of actual harm. It makes for a messy relationship, as the lines between the foolhardy cop and the foolhardy civilian are now a bit less clear.
Ride Along introduces us to Atlanta cop James Payton (Ice Cube), an authoritative and stubbornly independent officer of the law who has nothing but contempt for diminutive, fast-talking high school security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), who’s stolen the heart of James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter). When Ben is accepted to the police academy, he decides to ask James for his blessing to propose to Angela, which the latter agrees to give Ben on the condition that he accompany James for a day at work (read: a “ride along”) and prove himself worthy.
James takes advantage of every opportunity he has to make Ben miserable and convince him that he’s not cut out to wield a badge, while secretly investigating further into a dangerous case. Will Ben manage to impress his girlfriend’s over-protective brother and prove that he has what it takes to uphold the law? (Answer: Take a wild guess.)
Ride Along is directed by Tim Story, who specializes in broad entertainment, be it the quirky action-comedy Taxi, good-natured dramedy Barbershop or the cartoony Fantastic Four movies from the mid-aughts. His new variation on the buddy-cop formula has the occasional satisfying and/or funny moment, but is mostly just a mashup of watered-down action/comedy tropes (think Rush Hour) and uninspired slapstick that is less imaginative than that featured in last year’s female buddy-cop comedy The Heat.
Cube and Hart turn out to be an okay pairing, though it’s really the latter who deserves the credit for making this union even a half-success. Cube constantly scowls and drops PG-13 expletives throughout Ride Along‘s running time, yet he does so with little enthusiasm or charisma; that James is also an unlikeable and belligerent maverick who’s borderline sociopathic (think John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard) makes him fail as the empathetic straight-man. Ironic, given how Cube the rapper probably would’ve rallied against portraying this abuse of authority for comical effect back in his youth – but that’s another discussion.
As for Hart, he makes an admirable effort to sell every lame joke, slapstick routine or zany scenario that Ben is given, but his palpable energy doesn’t save the movie – though it does make it go down easy. Part of the problem is that it feels as though Hart needed to have an R-Rated or edgier PG-13 action/comedy template for him to flex his funnyman muscles properly, like what Eddie Murphy had in Beverly Hills Cop. Unfortunately, the Ride Along script written by Greg Coolidge (Sorority Boys), Jason Mantzoukas (Childrens Hospital) and writing duo Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (R.I.P.D.) instead saddles Hart with bland wisecracks about his height, sensitive nature and “hammer.”
But it also makes the film a bit less predictable. You never quite know what Ben will do, and you never quite know how James will get him out of it.
Though it starts off more like a comedic variation on Training Day, Ride Along also bears more than a passing resemblance to last summer’s odd couple cop comedy The Heat, in which by-the-book Fed Sandra Bullock and unhinged Boston cop Melissa McCarthy bickered and took down bad guys while becoming best friends. Like The Heat, Ride Along has as much action as it does humor, though a time traveler from 1996 might have his mind blown to learn that the Sandra Bullock movie is far more profane and violent than its Ice Cube counterpart. In both films, though, one character serves as the comic engine: Here, Hart has the energy to take his rat-tat-tat rants into odd, fun directions, but he doesn’t quite have the hypnotically surreal, whipsawing quality that McCarthy brought to her performance. As for Ice Cube, he does irritated well, and he gets to do a lot of that here. About 90 percent of his performance appears to be reaction shots.
It all mostly works, but you can’t help but wonder at times if it could have been a lot funnier if it had just a bit more edge. Aside from some goofily intimate sex talk between Hart and Sumpter, Ride Along never seems to want to push any envelopes, or to take any real chances. And given the familiarity of the whole thing, you keep wishing for something to raise your pulse. Hart brings some of that, but it’s never quite enough. The premise of that long-ago spec script was a typical fish-out-of-water/buddy-cop tale. But we’ve had so many of those over the years that it’s hard not to watch Ride Along and be reminded of many more entertaining and surprising films that you could be watching in its place.