By Simon Miraudo
March 17, 2014
Ride Along is everything you thought it would be and maybe even a little less. Hey, if you want to see Kevin Hart screeching like a mad-man and late-period Ice Cube gleefully giving shout-outs to his song titles through dialogue (as I often do), this is the place to get it. The only other way you’d be able to enjoy such a combo would be during a fever-dream that came from an evening of watching Friday on loop and forgetting briefly that Chris Tucker used to be a thing.
Ascendant comedy superstar Hart plays Ben Barber, a security guard just accepted into Atlanta’s police academy. He breaks the news to his soon-to-be brother-in-law, detective James Payton (Cube), who immediately begins to fantasise about Ben’s death. Hoping to scare him away from the job, and perhaps away from his sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), too, James offers to take Ben on a, well, ride along, specifically accepting calls for only the most annoying, unsolvable disputes their city has to offer. But, of course, Ben – desperate to prove himself and earn the elusive Payton blessing – breaks open a case James has spent years trying to unravel, putting them both in the line of fire before the evening’s out.
The script for Ride Along has been floating around Hollywood for the better part of a decade, accumulating rewrites with every new casting combination. The current version, credited to Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay (based on previous efforts by Jason Mantzoukas and Greg Coolidge), is pretty much as bland a shell of a prototypical buddy comedy one could imagine; you can probably buy it as a template in Final Draft. Its cavernous absence of personality and ingenuity is likely intentional though; a screenplay shorn so as to allow Hart’s comic persona to fill the gaps, like liquid in a jar of marbles. Maybe his part was largely improvised. Maybe Manfredi and Hay know precisely what kind of gags play to his strengths (particularly those involving his diminutive stature). Nonetheless, Ride Along is only successful as a Kevin Hart Joke Generator. As a fan of his energetic stand-up specials and even his small performances in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Scary Movie 3, and This is the End, I was happy to be stuck in a darkened room with him for 100 minutes. Others might find a similar scenario interminable.
Director Tim Story brings little with him except a dubious filmography and Cube could only possibly be classified as a decent ‘straight man’ due to his lack of comic talent. Poor Tika Sumpter, meanwhile, doesn’t even get to leave the house her character shares with Hart’s, in case you were wondering how the film treated its female cast (of one). At least Ride Along has made a lot of money in the United States, and should guarantee Sumpter an opportunity to score some further roles down the road (as well as in the inevitable sequel). It’s also the rare Kevin Hart hit to get a major release Down Under, with his previous smash Think Like a Man going direct to DVD. The fate of Think Like a Man Too and his About Last Night remake rests on how Ride Along fares here. I’m not saying it’s his best effort; just that Ride Along‘s success is more than welcome. Some vehicles are made worthwhile simply by where they take its star.
Ride Along arrives in Australian cinemas March 20, 2014.