Let’s get one thing out of the way first, Kevin Hart is hilarious. Even in a toned down, third-rate, PG-13 buddy comedy like Ride Along he’s hilarious. However, when I see it took four people — Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi — to write a screenplay that could just as easily be outlined on a napkin before handed over to Hart while telling him to improvise the rest frustrates me. Of that lot only Mantazoukas has anything respectable to his credit while Hay and Manfredi have brought us the likes of R.I.P.D., Clash of the Titans and Aeon Flux. Suffice to say, without Hart, Ride Along would have been unwatchable.
In the opening minutes we meet Ice Cube as hard-boiled detective James Payton, working undercover, attempting to learn the identity of some anonymous villain named Omar. Things go bad, the bad guys find out he’s a cop and he destroys half of downtown Atlanta chasing after one of the suspects. Cue the following scene where the police chief (Bruce McGill) is all, “What are you doing? You don’t even know Omar exists! Forget about Omar! I’m tightening your leash! Get out of my office!” You know, original stuff.
Next we meet Ben Barber (Hart), a video game addict who’s in love and living with with James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter). Ben wants to ask Angela to marry him, but first she wants him to get James’ blessing. James, obviously, isn’t too keen on Ben for all the typical, running time expanding reasons, all of which boils down to his own insecurities and a troubled past, but I’m sure you could gauge as much from watching the trailer or just as a mere understanding that’s how these movies work.
As it turns out, Ben wants to get into the Police Academy and James is looking for any reason to get Ben out of his sister’s life. So, he invites him on a ride along with the intention of emasculating him to the point he decides he’s not worthy for Angela or as a police officer. Thus, the plot is established…
Cube spends the duration of the feature doing his typical gangster preening, snarling and getting mad at Ben for whatever may take place all while going against his captain’s orders and trying to track down Omar. Hart, thankfully, uses each and every opportunity to liven things up. Ride Along equates to what is basically open mic night for Hart while a broken down plot plays out in the background. He’s funny at every turn, even if the short jokes get a bit tiresome, but the end result is hardly anything worth praising.
Of course, there’s already plans for a sequel as this film clearly hopes to become something of a Lethal Weapon/Bad Boys hybrid, but skirting the R-rating limits its range and with Cube as the straight man, he can’t come close to bringing to this possible franchise what Danny Glover brought to the Lethal Weapon series, though Hart appears to be able to hold his own as a Martin Lawrence for a new era (and funnier).
None of this comes as much of a surprise as director Tim Story has never been one to be all that discerning when it comes to work. The guy is so hit and miss it’s almost alarming. I mean, how can he look at something like Ride Along and say, “Yeah, that works,” after directing something as good as Think Like a Man? At what point do we have to take this guy by the shoulders and tell him it’s okay to ask for a rewrite? Make no mistake, this is the Tim Story behind the likes of Taxi and the Fantastic Four films and I only hope the other Story shows up for Think Like a Man Too.