On Monday night, I attended a press screening of Ride Along 2. I made the prerequisite jokes of possibly not being able to understand the nuances of Ride Along 2 because I had never seen Ride Along. “Ha ha,” laughed no one, because what I had said wasn’t funny.
It is kind of preposterous that I would sit down to watch a sequel of a movie I had never seen. There are certain movies where this is deemed “Okay,” especially comedies. I would suspect most adults could watch, say, The Whole Ten Yards and have a pretty strong idea of what’s going on between Jimmy the Tulip and Oz without having seen The Whole Nine Yards. (I didn’t have to look up either of those character names, which frightens me a little bit.)
But there I sat as Ride Along 2 started, with it firmly established that Atlanta cop James Payton (Ice Cube) finds fellow Atlanta cop Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) kind of annoying. Despite Payton’s gruff demeanor toward Barber while trying to solve a case about drug smugglers in Miami, or something, it’s obvious that Payton cares about Barber — Barber is marrying Payton’s sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter) — but he doesn’t respect, nor does he particularly like Barber. Barber, for his part, is trying to impress Payton. Barber wants to become a police detective and doesn’t understand why he can’t extract Payton’s respect or love. And there I was, sitting there, watching these two men interact, and I had no idea why they feel this way about each other. I had betrayed both of them.
The first Ride Along (both movies are directed by Tim Story) was panned by critics, but made a whopping $150 million. If you are already invested in the narrative of the Ride Along saga, you have probably already purchased your tickets for Ride Along 2. The sequel uses buddy cop tropes and the star power of its two leads to woo audiences. But, maybe – just maybe – there’s deeper meaning in all of this. I know it’s January and things are looking bleak, but there just has to be deeper meaning in Ride Along. I swear I’m going to find it.
When I was in high school, I played on a summer baseball team with this guy named Mike Johns. I remember one night, after a tough loss (that’s a lie, we lost all the time and I got used to it) I broke down about a girl I liked and also an unrelated event about someone who was picking on me. Mike asked what was wrong. I then proceeded to go on and on in an animated fashion about how hard things were and why this was obviously the worst thing that could happen to someone who was 15. It was all very ridiculous. Anyway, after about a 15-second pause, Mike Johns, with a stoic look on his face, looked me in the eyes and says, “fuck ‘em all, walk tall.” Then he walked off.
I have no idea what Mike Johns does today. I hope he went into psychology work and that his advice for everyone, no matter what the task, is simply, “fuck ‘em all, walk tall.”
“My son won’t speak to me.”
“Fuck ‘em all, walk tall.”
“I get very anxious when I fly.”
“Fuck ‘em all, walk tall.”
I bring this up because any scene between James Payton and Ben Barber in Ride Along 2 reminds me of that one interaction with Mike Johns. I was Ben Barber, frantically pleading my case, and James Payton is Mike Johns, the tough guy who cares just enough to deliver a catchphrase. What happened between these two men that brought their relationship to such strife? Mike Johns and myself had the excuse of adolescence, but why do James and Ben act like this? What makes them tick? Obviously, this all must be explained in the first installment of the Ride Along story.
On Tuesday morning, I watched the first Ride Along looking for answers. Any answers. And there were a few answers. I learned why Ben goes by the name Black Hammer. I honestly had no idea this was a reference to Ben’s penis and, now, this fills in so many narrative gaps I experienced during the sequel. Now, when I think about the relationship between Ben and James knowing this information, it changes everything. A person who calls his penis “Black Hammer” is a person begging for respect — and, my God, James is the one person who won’t give that respect to Ben. This shapes their whole dynamic. This shapes both of their world views. Of course. Of course! This all makes so much more sense now.
In the second movie, James’ car blows up. See, I didn’t realize that this also happens in the first film. Now, wouldn’t you hide your emotions if you’ve lost two separate vehicles to explosions? I think so. And that’s the only two exploding vehicles we know about. There could have been more before the events of the first Ride Along takes place. (I’ve searched my local bookstore for the Ride Along movie novelizations or any books that take place before the events for the first film and had no luck.) When James loses a car to an explosion, his face winces in pain … that pain is now our pain.
Also, in the first film, James says the line, “It was a good day.” This is noteworthy for two reasons: The first is that James uses this line after something terrible had happened to Ben. Even though, deep down, James cares about Ben, he can still be cruel to Ben. The second is that after James says this line, he sports a big smile and others in the room laugh. This must mean that in the Ride Along universe, Ice Cube exists and that “It Was A Good Day” was a popular song in this universe. It also means that the other people in the room know that James not only has a striking resemblance to Ice Cube, but that James goes as far to quote Ice Cube songs for laughs.
So we finally get to the crux of James: He’s a man who has to deflect his resemblance to Ice Cube with jokes and he’s lost at least two cars to explosions.
Ride Along isn’t about Ben being incompetent. It’s about James being so beaten down by life and his exploding cars that he takes it all out on the one person in his orbit who still has a zest for life, Ben — the same Ben who goes by the name Black Hammer. Ben wants respect. James is having none of it. This will never get resolved. These two men will always hate each other. The Ride Along story could go on forever and we will never have resolution. There are no answers to this, only more questions that set up more Ride Along installments.
Sometimes, all is lost. This is the real story behind the two Ride Along movies: lost humanity with no chance of redemption … and we’re just along for the ride.
Sometimes things don’t mean exactly what they seem. Sometimes it’s just a dumb January movie. Sometimes our car explodes. Think about it.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.