Review: ‘Ride Along’ is a Shrill, Unfunny, Dismal Experience

By January 15, 2014

Ride Along

It’s no dig at his diminutive stature to say that Kevin Hart epitomizes the idea of the “small portion” comedian. Although his scenes in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Five Year Engagement, Think Like A Man, and This Is The End (among others) are side-splitting, as a main character or star, he’s tested audiences’ patience like no one since Chris Tucker. And in what might be pitched as a feeble attempt to create a Rush Hour franchise of his very own, Ride Along, Hart is more unbearable than ever: where at least Tucker understood that he was bringing his personality to a character, Hart seems to think that he’s supposed to play himself, regardless of the demands of the screenplay, resulting in one of the most shrill and consistently unfunny buddy-cop comedies of this or any other year.

Hart plays Ben, a high school security guard who aspires to become a cop. After getting accepted at the police academy, Ben decides the time is right to ask his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter) to marry him. Knowing that her top-cop brother James (Ice Cube) disapproves, however, he becomes determined to win him over, even if it means going on a ride along through the streets of Atlanta. Initially daunted by the challenges James presents him, Ben is ready to give up – not just on James, but his planned career on the police force. But after uncovering some important clues that may lead to a big-league criminal James is looking for, Ben becomes the cop’s unlikely partner, as the two of them find themselves caught up in a web of corruption more dangerous than either ever imagined.

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The key to creating a successful buddy movie, much less buddy cop movie, is in creating two distinctive personalities that not only bounce off one another, but bring out the best in each other. In the case of Ride Along, however, screenwriters Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi borrow heavily from the Meet the Parents template – pitting two actors’ personas against one another – without bothering to see whether those personalities come together, or even clash, in remotely compelling ways. But while the Parents movies – the first one, anyway – effectively paired a wet noodle and a complete asshole, Hart is no Ben Stiller and Cube is no Robert De Niro, and neither is a generous enough performer to try and find a middle ground that works for the movie itself.

Moreover, Hart seems incapable of demonstrating any qualities in Ben other than petulance and desperation; although he uncovers a handful of clues that lead James to his suspect, Ben possesses none of the maturity, or even deeply-buried competence, to be able to earn the police job he wants, and gives the audience no reason to be on his side. As his partner, meanwhile, Cube’s character James’ last name might as well have been Exposition, since he does almost nothing else in the film other than bark dialogue that clarifies the previous plot development, or drives towards the next one.

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That said, it doesn’t help that the screenwriters are virtually incapable of creating a believable chain of events for the characters to follow. The back and forth between the characters feels arbitrary enough by itself, but between the quartet of writers’ kitchen-sink plotting and director Tim Story’s misguidedly aggressive directing, the film exudes the momentum of a Michael Bay movie with less than half of its brains. Following an opening sequence whose cliched “fight, chase, disregard all procedure” beats make it feel like a parody of buddy cop movies, the film never settles into a coherent groove – is the duo’s day out a goof, or a serious adventure peppered with laughs? The filmmakers might want you to believe that the choice is a deliberately ambiguous one, but it feels more like a choice they could never make.

In other words, the movie fails on its own merits, even if you can stand the constant, shrill bickering between its two leads: as a thrill ride, it stalls, and as a comedy, it’s not funny. Ultimately, Ride Along is a dismal experience that not only doesn’t utilize the talents of Hart and Cube, it actively undermines them, encouraging you to forget when, if ever, you actually enjoyed watching them on screen – or anything else, for that matter.

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Todd Gilchrist is a film critic with more than ten years of experience working in Los Angeles. A member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd has contributed to a wide variety of print and online outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Variety, The Playlist, MTV Movies, and IGN.