Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language.
Running time: 100 minutes.
One star out of four.
“Ride Along” has the dubious distinction of being simultaneously shoddy and straining, lazy and desperate. It’s a comedy that’s never funny with action that’s never thrilling.
Director Tim Story’s film is so addled with mismatched-buddy-cop cliches, it’s actually hard to tell whether they’re intended as homage or parody — or perhaps it was just easier to wallow in gags that are familiar and safe, rather than coming up with an original idea. (It took four whole people to cobble together the screenplay. Count ’em.)
One thing is for certain: A little bit of Kevin Hart goes a long way. The quick-talking, diminutive comic was actually the best part of Story’s 2012 comedy “Think Like a Man” — but then again, he was a member of an ensemble where his manic shtick was enjoyable in small, sporadic doses. Here, he’s exhausting, appearing in nearly every frame opposite Ice Cube as the scowling straight man. All traces of Cube’s innate likability — which Story made the most of when he directed him in the amiable “Barbershop” way back in 2002 — have been scrubbed away. The two characters are supposed to clash, but that would require chemistry of some sort.
Hart’s Ben is a high school security guard with dreams of glory as a police officer. He also dreams of marrying his girlfriend, the beautiful Angela (Tika Sumpter), but first must acquire the approval of Angela’s brother, James (Cube), the toughest detective in all of Atlanta. (Sumpter’s character, by the way, is little more than an idea; smart-alecky and oversexed, she’s required to run around in cleavage-baring blouses, tight tank tops and itty-bitty shorts but has no discernible life or career outside of Ben. And the fact that she feels compelled to defer to her brother about a major life decision like marriage seems especially archaic in this day and age.)
Having just been accepted into the police academy, Ben feels like he’s practically a cop already. Eager to prove himself to James both personally and professionally, he’s all-too happy to go on a ride-along with the veteran officer. (The movie at least has the decency to acknowledge that its premise will remind you of the far superior “Training Day.”) But James — with the help of two of his colleagues (John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen) — hopes to make life on the mean streets look as unappealing as possible, dragging Ben along to only the most annoying, time-sucking calls.
At the same time, though, James is trying to do legitimate investigative work, looking into a suspected illegal arms deal involving a bunch of generically villainous Serbian bad guys. (Bruce McGill is underused in a couple of scenes as James’ stock, disapproving lieutenant.) This brings us to the only truly clever idea “Ride Along” has to offer: Because Ben spends so much of his free time playing a “Call of Duty”-style, first-person shooter video game, he’s inordinately knowledgeable about the various types of high-powered weaponry. So by sheer accident, he helps James sniff out the criminals and uncover their plan.
But mostly, Ben blathers and bumbles, repeatedly and gratingly. There isn’t a moment of surprise here. The second Ben picks up a shotgun at a shooting range, for example, you know the kick will blast him to the back wall and you know James will react with a groan.
You’ll find yourself groaning again and again, too — but perhaps no more so than when Ice Cube quotes one of his most famous songs when he quips at the film’s conclusion: “Today was a good day.” Presumably, saying “Fuck tha police,” while apt, also would have made a PG-13 rating impossible.