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Growing up as an 11-year-old white kid in the middle of a moderate sized town in the Pacific Northwest, the first time I threw on NWA’s seminal album Straight Outta Compton was a mind blowing experience, one of those moments that profoundly expand your mind. A direct result of this was that Ice Cube became the most terrifying human being alive. In my adolescent mind, all he did was murder people and tell the cops to go fuck themselves. Getting older I learned a few things about the realities of the world, and realized that’s not the case. Still, the rapper-turned-actor has maintained his edge in my mind even after making crappy family movies like “Are We There Yet?” Sure, he may have made “The Longshots,” but even after everything he’s still one of the few people who, when he punches an Anaconda in the face and calls it a bitch, I still totally buy it.
The big question mark for me going into Cube’s latest cinematic endeavor, the cop comedy “Ride Along,” is Kevin Hart. I’ve seen his standup and enjoy parts, the same goes for his awards show hosting, and he’s funny in small parts in movies like “This is the End” and shows like “Modern Family.” That said, the prospect of him carrying an entire movie is a bit daunting. I don’t know that I need to sit through 100 minutes of him doing his thing, that seems like it will get annoying eventually, though how fast is hard to tell.
When you combine these two sides, the Ice Cube with the Kevin Hart, you get the exact movie you expect. If you know anything about “Ride Along” going in, even down to who stars in it, you know what you’re going to get, for both good and ill. Imagine a random stranger walks up to you on the street and tells you there’s this movie where Ice Cube plays a cop, and that in this movie he takes a squirrely little dude out for a ride along one day. The movie that you envision in your head is precisely the movie that appears on screen.
Cube plays James Payton. You know the type, he’s a badass loner who refuses to have a partner, plays by his own rules, and has been hunting a mysterious gangster, who no one has ever seen. James has been after this anonymous gangster named Omar for years, even though his lieutenant (Bruce McGill) tells him to stand down at every turn. Ben Barber (Hart) is a high school security guard, and wannabe cop, who thinks he’s bad because he’s a Platinum Level Player on his favorite first person shooter. Here’s the complication, Ben wants to marry James’ sister (Tika Sumpter), but big brother thinks Ben is a pussy, and isn’t man enough. So when James suggests Ben spends a day with him on the mean streets of Atlanta, he thinks he’s going to scare off his sister’s suitor, while Ben looks at it as an opportunity to win the approval of his future in-law.
You only see the usual things you expect out of a movie like this, like Ben being schooled by a small child, James putting Ben in embarrassing situations, and all manner of PG-13 shenanigans, but “Ride Along” is entertaining enough for a while. Cube does his straight man thing while Hart is left free to let loose with his own brand of madness. You get some decent broad, but funny moments. Sure, more than one or two will make you groan, but enough hit their mark to make it worth your while. At one point Hart does ask a question I didn’t even know I’ve always wanted the answer to: how many rainbows is Ice Cube made of?
Once you’re through the first act and the story is all set up, “Ride Along” takes a disastrous nosedive. There’s not a lot of acting going on here. Hart is playing Hart and Ice Cube is playing Ice Cube, and that sort of single, repetitive note wears on you over the course of the movie. After a frenetic start, “Ride Along” bogs down in tired, mis-matched buddy-cop clichés. Once in a while the script takes pot shots at the well-worn genre tropes, like a random exploding manhole in the opening scene, but for the most part they’re worn out. We get it, the wacky sidekick never does what the grizzled veteran tells him to do, but just as often as Ben’s antics get them into trouble, they also get them out of a tight spot or two. There’s begrudging respect, one night that can change everything, and of course Ben and James get in deep with Omar. By the time James has an awkwardly timed ‘serious talk’ with Ben about his upbringing—you learn all manner of unnecessary facts about his young life—any momentum has long-since evaporated.
If you’re a big fan of Kevin Hart, or if you’re just looking to add another punch to your I’ve-seen-every-Ice-Cube-movie-ever-made card, by all means, run out and see “Ride Along.” If not, wait for it to hit cable some night when you’re bored and there is absolutely nothing else on TV, it shouldn’t take long to get there. Moderately funny at best, “Ride Along” gets tedious and drags, never progressing beyond its basic gag.
Tim Story (director)/Greg Coolidge (writer)/Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi (writer)
CAST: Ice Cube…James Payton
Kevin Hart…Ben Barber
Bruce McGill…Lt. Brooks
Tika Sumpter…Angela Payton