Ride Along (United States, 2014)January 17, 2014
Ride Along, the new action/comedy starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, defies the cliché that you can't judge a book by its cover. Nothing unexpected lurks beneath a bland and predictable exterior. Those who have seen a 30-second TV commercial (or the longer theatrical trailer) have no need to endure the production in its entirety: they have experienced all director Tim Story can offer. At its best, Ride Along is tolerable. At its worst, it borders on insulting.
Those who attend movies for the plot will find little to applaud about Ride Along. The narrative is merely an excuse to pair up the stars and fill the background with explosions and bullets. The familiar story is about two mismatched "buddies" who find themselves on the trail of a mysterious crime kingpin named "Omar" (Laurence Fishburne). James Payton (Ice Cube) is a pugnacious, rebellious cop who has been tracking Omar for years with little success. His lieutenant (Bruce McGill) is losing patience with his lack of results. Ben Barber (Hart) is James' would-be brother-in-law. Ben's intended bride, Angela (Tika Sumpter), wants him to get her brother's "blessing" for their engagement. That involves proving something about his character to James. To accomplish that, Ben agrees to "ride along" for a day in James' cop car. Initially, it's a set up to deflate and humiliate Ben, but that changes when the situation with Omar erupts.
Director Story, whose dubious resume includes two bad Fantastic Four movies, understands how to take material that could have been R-rated and neuter it for PG-13 consumption. The level of violence in Ride Along would be sufficient to get most similar films the more restrictive rating but Story makes sure that, during gunfights, camera movement becomes so spastic that it's impossible to process what's happening. As a result, the violence seems less extreme than it would if the scenes were filmed coherently. What's good for pacifying the MPAA, however, leads to a terrible viewing experience.
To the extent that Ride Along offers anything entertaining, it comes from the interplay between Ice Cube and Hart, who are channeling their own urban cop versions of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison. These two have effective chemistry with Ice Cube's unsmiling ways playing well off Hart's over-the-top, high energy approach. Nevertheless, it's apparent that the need to keep things PG-13 "clean" blunts Hart's comedic edge. The presence of occasional laugh-inducing material can't dispel the sense that the movie could have been hilarious if the restraints had been removed.
Ride Along appeals to audiences who don't want to think much while relaxing for about 100 minutes in a theater. It offers generic action, a trite storyline, a predictable ending, uneven comedy, and passable chemistry between the leads. There's plenty of energy but not much substance. Calling this "workmanlike" would be overpraising Story's dubious achievement. It's baffling that the script required four credited screenwriters but that's often the case with January movies: material is progressively dumbed-down through overwriting to the point where the end result is forgettable. If you're intrigued, check out the trailer. If, after seeing that, you're still interested, by all means pay the admission fee. At least you'll know exactly what you're getting; Ride Along has nothing to hide.
Ride Along (United States, 2014)
Cast: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Tika Sumpter, John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen, Bruce McGill, Laurence Fishburne
Screenplay: Greg Coolidge and Jason Mantzoukas and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Cinematography: Larry Blanford
Music: Christopher Lennertz
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures