While I’m not sure I’d ever accuse Ice Cube of having any significant dramatic range as an actor, I like his presence on-screen, and I’ve enjoyed several of the action comedies he’s starred in. I think “All About The Benjamins” is just plain fun, and Eva Mendes gives a fantastic comic performance in it. Cube’s had several on-screen comic foils, and I’d say Chris Tucker in the first “Friday” remains the gold standard. That film worked as well as it did because the entire cast was strong and funny and worked perfectly off of one another, whether it’s Tiny Lister or John Witherspoon or Faizon Love. It was also an incredibly simple concept, played out for all it was worth.
I was hoping “Ride Along” would be an equally strong endeavor. It’s a good comic premise: a guy wants to impress his brother-in-law to-be, a cop, and goes on a ride along with him where the cop intentionally exposes him to the craziest stuff possible. I like comedy ideas where you get the premise in one sentence because a good film can then play with character and twist the joke and really milk that premise in a dozen different ways. As it is, I would love to look at the various drafts by Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi just to see who contributed what to the film as it exists now. At some point, this became an Ice Cube/Kevin Hart film, and how much you enjoy it probably depends largely on how funny you think Kevin Hart is when he yells.
Hart is undeniably one of the most successful comics working right now. He’s one of the only guys who is actually shooting and releasing stand-up concert films theatrically, and there is a huge hunger for them from his audience. I think Hart is sporadically funny, and in his best moments, he seems to have a self-awareness that allows him to make himself the joke. In “Grudge Match,” he looked like he was having a good time serving in a supporting role just bouncing insults off of Alan Arkin, and Arkin seemed to be enjoying it as well. I don’t have a problem with Hart in theory. I just don’t think this particular character ends up paying off the premise of the movie, and it feels like there are too many places where director Tim Story just told Hart to go for it, regardless of whether he had something great to do or not.
Hart is Ben, a high school security guard who dreams of becoming a cop, and he is equally excited about the prospect of marrying his long-time girlfriend Angela, played by the lovely Tika Sumpter. He knows he’s punching out of his weight class, and he is determined to win over James, Angela’s hyper-protective older brother. James is a badass street detective right out of an over-the-top Joel Silver movie from 1993, and the film’s opening sequence makes it clear that we are not to take any of the action in the film seriously because it so outrageous. James has been chasing a mysterious crime lord named Omar for years, and each time he gets close, Omar seems to vanish into thin air. So of course, on the very day that James decides he’s going to torture this guy who wants to marry his sister, he also stumbles over the clues that finally put him face-to-face with Omar, giving him a chance to close the biggest case of his career.
And by the time they get to the end, I really couldn’t have cared less. The Omar story is so predictable and so poorly constructed that it just drags the movie down in terms of energy. If they had just focused on the notion of the relationship between Ben and James, they could have had something. In the moments where Hart is able to find a comic thread worth playing, he is relentless, and it’s obvious that he knows he’s got an opportunity right now to turn his stand-up audience into a much larger audience if he plays his cards right.
When I interviewed Cube and Hart together, Cube compared Hart to Eddie Murphy, and that’s a huge comparison to make. I couldn’t help but see that as a very pointed comment on Cube’s part, and I would imagine both Mike Epps and Chris Tucker feeling a wee bit hurt by the comment. But if Cube really feels that Hart has that much potential, he might be right. Hart definitely has an active and engaged fanbase right now. But when Eddie Murphy made the jump to films, he did so with “48 HRS,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “Trading Places” as his big first wave of movies. That worked not just because Eddie was positively electric in the films, but because the films were genuinely very good beyond just his work. Hart can’t do it alone, and it frequently feels like “Ride Along” stops so everyone can stand back to see what Hart will do, which strands him more than it supports him.
Tim Story seems like a filmmaker who enjoys actors, but who is at a loss when it comes to the staging of the larger set pieces. There’s not a single sequence in the film where it feels like everything’s working. Instead, we get glimpses of chemistry and little flashes of humor and character, but in a framework that just never quite snaps into focus. If Cube really felt like he had a strong rapport with Hart and that they would work well together again, then I hope he finds something that’s rock solid on the page to begin with that serves as a springboard to something better. As it stands, this is a “Ride Along” you’ll be hard-pressed to remember a few weeks after you see it, a shining example of a missed opportunity.
“Ride Along” opens everywhere on Friday.