Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne
(Universal; US theatrical: 17 Jan 2014 (General release); 2014)
It’s all in the bullshit. Put another way, the four credited writers on the toothless buddy comedy Ride Along clearly determined that the only way to avoid the wrath of the MPAA (and as a result, cut out much of the under-17 demo demanding a pairing between a formidable ex-rapper and a flavor of the moment comedian) is to eliminate the F-bombs and bring on the BS. There are so many uses of this simplistic curse—as a exclamation, as a countermand to a direct attack, as a casual “come one”, as a description for the plans and plots of others, that you’d swear director Tim Story and the rest of the production team were in the manure department. Come to think of it, with the amount of dung being thrown at the audience by this overlong, unfunny mess, they may indeed be dealing in nothing but ripe, rotting cinematic compost.
The story set here is one of those “only in the movies” mock-ups that sees a supposed serious professional—ATL police detective, James Payton, played by former N.W.A. member turned likable onscreen presence, Ice Cube—getting all discombobulated by a potential brother-in-law - high school security guard and Atlanta police academy cadet Ben Barnes, played by fad gadget funnyman Kevin Hart. Even since the latter set the former on fire at a family barbecue, tensions have been high. James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) wants her brother to play nice with her future husband, but he doesn’t want to. In fact, he wants him out of the picture, permanently.
So when Ben asks him for his permission to marry, our defender of the people decides to use his position to take out his own angry agenda on the dork. The result is a series of set-ups with limited comic payoffs, James’ plan to bring Ben on a ride along turning into a tepid action thriller involving Serbian arms dealers, a mysterious mobster named Omar (Laurence Fishburne) and some silly pseudo slapstick. Naturally, our clueless civilian more or less solves a case that’s been inactive for over two years, and just because they—John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen—play cops doesn’t mean they are on the right side of things come the predetermined denouement. How original.
Had it gone the hard-R route, had it decided to dump all the faux family friendly PG-13 ideals and just let its actors go, Ride Along may have been hilarious…“may” being the key word. This is a movie where the N-word is perfectly acceptable but any other epithet is not. Unless it centers on bovine feces or various versions of “ass”, this film makes sure to keep things nice and Grandma appropriate, all in an effort to put as many butts in the seats as possible. For their part, Hart and Cube are more than likable. Each brings his own special skill set to the mix, though the former ferocious MC is really nothing more than a straight man to his stand-up sidekicks out of control motor mouth. Think Robin Williams without the dick jokes and you get where Hart is coming from. He’s like a browser in the Hall of Comedy, skimming through the source material and rattling it off at random in hopes of finding something that will make the viewer laugh.
Frequently, he fails. Instead, like an episode of Seinfeld, this film functions under the mistaken belief that ANYTHING SAID LOUDLY AND WITH A MEASAURE OF ANGST-RIDDEN IRRITATION is sidesplitting. There aren’t punchlines here so much as broad proclamations. When a sequence appears scripted, as when Hart discusses his video game nickname (“Black Hammer”) with his fiancé or he tries to talk his way out of a gangland stand-off, everything goes stale. Indeed, it’s safe to say that the only energy injected into this junk is Hart and Cube’s point and counterpoint act. Everything else, including the work from an otherwise talented supporting cast, just lays there limp and lifeless.
Which is odd, since Ride Along most resembles a hyperactive child desperately vying for attention. As it whirls like a dervish from moment to moment you can see where it could simply calm down and let its stars sort things out. Instead, director Tim Story just keeps throwing stuff at us, wondering when we will finally give in and laugh. Oddly enough, it happens. About 90 minutes into this overlong film, you finally feel your will to maintain a proper perspective slowly draining away and, before you know it, you are giggling as Hart goes gonzo on a bunch of baddies, or when Laurence Fishburne takes control of the chaos. Of course, you’ve had to sit through several sequences of pointless meandering and give up on your own cinematic spirit to get there. It’s telling that the numerous names listed as part of the writing credits couldn’t come up with a decent storyline. Instead, they just borrow from their betters and hope Cube and Hart can cope.
Of course, those already invested in enjoying the work done by Misters NWA and Grown Ass Man won’t really care that they don’t play characters, or that the narrative functions on sheer coincidence instead of organic plot twists. They just want to pay their money, sit back in their seats, and enjoy themselves. With such significantly limited expectations, Ride Along will definitely deliver. Since it panders, and panders professionally, it knows just how to satisfy the idiocracy’s idea of a good time. Again, with a bit of hardness and the language that goes along with it, we might have seen something along the lines of 48 Hours or other successful comedy action film mash-ups. Instead, Ride Along is humor hampered by its too many cooks conceits. When we laugh, it’s only out of frustration, not anything authentically or realistically funny.