The buddy-cop film seems to be as old as time itself, and really the only reason one might be better or worse than another is that the two actors paired as partners have a decent chemistry and at least one of them is screamingly funny. The latest entry into the buddy-cop pantheon is RIDE ALONG, starring the often stoic, joke-free comedy stylings of Ice Cube (FRIDAY, BARBERSHOP, 21 JUMP STREET), whose main source of humor is derived from the fact that he used to be one of the hardest hardcore gangsta rappers on the planet. Here, he plays James, the tough cop brother of Angela (Tika Sumpter), whose annoying boyfriend Ben (Kevin Hart) has just been accepted into the police academy and thinks this will finally make him seem worthy of Angela in James' eyes.
James decides that the only way to eject this clown from his sister's life is to take Ben on a ride along for a day and have the dispatcher feed him only the most annoying, tedious calls that no other cop wants to make the job look about as lame as possible. But Ben is a committed videogame player, and he has convinced himself that becoming an expert on "Call of Duty" has prepared him for the dangers of being a police officer. This is one of the more amusing gags in RIDE ALONG, especially when knowledge Ben picked up gaming offers up clues in a case James has been obsessed with for years, and is on the verge of giving up on forever.
I happen to think Kevin Hart is one of the funniest stand-up comics working today, and he's proven himself to be quite adept at playing with others in films, using improv effectively and just generally being a decent actor (you'll see a lot more proof of this last point in his next movie, the ABOUT LAST NIGHT remake, out in mid-February). But when Hart senses that a scene isn't going well and probably won't get big laughs from audiences, his knee-jerk reaction is to go big, loud and obnoxious — something that happens quite a bit here.
Director Tim Story, who has worked with both of his leads in other films (Ice Cube in the superior BARBERSHOP and Hart in THINK LIKE A MAN and its upcoming sequel), and he has a true gift for getting Hart to dial his insanity down just a bit. And for the most part, Story is successful. I'm 99 percent sure we're supposed to be rooting for Hart to get Cube's blessing to marry his sister, but Hart gets so loud and screechy so often that that audience support might take a lot longer to arrive.
The big-picture case that James is working on, inadvertently involving Ben in the process, seems so superfluous and distracting that you almost wish it wasn't there (although it does get us a weirdly funny appearance by Laurence Fishburne). Watching this pair simply get shuttled from one ridiculous case to another is the root of the best comedy in RIDE ALONG, so any attempts to make this movie a bigger deal than it is seem foolish and ill advised.
That being said, one of the more amusing aspects to this film is that it successfully mimics the action-oriented portions of buddy-cop films, and makes them part of the joke. A climactic shootout turns into a funny sequence when Ben starts looking for replacement ammo on the ground, like his precious videogames, and actually finds some, much to James' shock and frustration.
Supporting performances from the likes of Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, "SNL" regular Jay Pharoah, and comic Bryan Callen come and go with little consequence and leave the burden for the laughter to Ice Cube and Hart, who use up their reserves well before the end of the movie. RIDE ALONG is not void of laugh-worthy moments—far from it. It's problem lies in the fact that after about an hour, we understand everything and everyone; hell, if you've ever watched a TV cop show, you can probably guess what happens to the bad guys.
Still, Hart and Cube do have something resembling chemistry (at last by the end of the film they do, which I guess is the point), and when the secondary storylines and characters failed to deliver, watching them poke each other with sticks did make me laugh. It's a close call in terms of recommending RIDE ALONG or not, but if you weren't already planning on checking this one out, you can probably skip it.