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"RIDE ALONG"
(2014) (Ice Cube, Kevin Hart) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action Comedy: A tough Atlanta cop takes a motor-mouthed young man on a ride along to scare him into not joining the Police Academy ... and not proposing to his sister.
PLOT:
James Payton (ICE CUBE) is a tough, no-nonsense cop working the mean streets of Atlanta and hot on the trail of an enigmatic master criminal named Omar (LAURENCE FISHBURNE), who he has hunted for several years. Having lost his parents at a young age and forced to grow up in foster homes, he prefers a solitary life -- one without connections, friends, and even a partner.

He does have one connection and that is his sister, Angela (TIKA SUMPTER), who is living with a man he can't stand. Ben (KEVIN HART) is a nice enough guy. He is a security guard at a local high school who dreams of attending the Police Academy and becoming a law enforcement officer, too. But James doesn't think this diminutive, motor-mouthed video-game junkie is good enough for Angela. So, he challenges him to accompany him on a ride along in order to prove his manhood. Ben, seeking James' blessing to marry his sister, eagerly accepts.

Unbeknownst to Ben, James has arranged with his fellow cops Miggs (BRYAN CALLEN) and Santiago (JOHN LEGUIZAMO) a series of humiliations that will convince Ben to realize he's not good enough for the Atlanta PD or Angela. Ben, though, proves extremely lucky at uncovering clues that could lead James to Omar despite the protests of James' commanding officer, Lt. Brooks (BRUCE McGILL).

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
After watching "Ride Along" in preview the other night, I had a real "What came first? The chicken or the egg?" debate go on in my head. What came first here? Ice Cube and Kevin Hart getting together and deciding to do a buddy cop movie, commissioning a script that would suit each of their individual styles? Or was this a mismatched pair, Screenplay 101 script that made the rounds as producers tried to cast based on the warring personality types? A quick Internet search found that the project was originally intended for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Ryan Reynolds. And, wow, would that have sucked!

But therein lies the chief shortcoming of "Ride Along." It feels like it started off life as a film for two other stars, then got hastily rewritten and given to Cube and Hart who were then given plenty of leeway to deviate from the screenplay's structure and throw in their own ad libs. The result is a well-constructed action caper whose comedy elements could have benefitted from a sharper, funnier wordsmith writing with these specific two personalities in mind.

Ice Cube plays James, a tough, no-nonsense Atlanta cop who prefers to maintain a loner profile. His life is complicated when his sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), starts to get serious with a motor-mouthed security guard named Ben (Kevin Hart), who James sees as a buffoon. Ben wants only to join the Police Academy and get James' blessing to marry Angela. So, James decides to test the young man's mettle by taking him on a ride along and staging a bunch of crazy crimes that will dissuade him from following through on both counts. But once on the ride along, though, Ben proves adept at uncovering clues that may lead James to capture Omar (Laurence Fishburne), an enigmatic master criminal he has been trying to arrest for years.

Director Tim Story does a nice job balancing broad comedy with the action sequences. In recent years, these types of films have begun to skew more to the R-rated violent side of things like last year's Denzel/Marky Mark mash-up "2 Guns." Here, the fights and the shootouts never get overly graphic or bloody. This is more in the vein of the "Rush Hour" flicks where it's funny to see little, five-foot-tall Kevin Hart get body slammed by Morpheus or for Ice Cube to toss a football at the back of Jay Pharoah's head (the "SNL" star has a funny cameo as a neighborhood snitch).

If this project had originated with Cube and Hart, I think it might have actually been something special. Too often, Hart is just allowed to run off at the mouth in scenes, trying to get laughs where none are present on the page. Sometimes he hits big with a line or a snappy comeback. Other times, he just flails about hoping his energy will goose the audience. Ice Cube, meanwhile, is too often reduced to just standing by and glaring at Hart's antics. The writers should realize that the man delivers every line in the same exact cadence whether he's bellowing "F*** you!" or "Please pass the salt!" and have taken advantage of that.

But for what it is -- let's face it, it's a mid-January release -- it's not bad. And I think a sequel, if this first film is successful at the box office, actually has a very good chance of being even better as the script would get to be penned with these two in mind. This first "Ride Along" rates a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed January 14, 2014 / Posted January 17, 2014


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