Saturday, January 30, 2016


Stand-up comic Kevin Hart cracks me up. The 5-ft. 2-in., bantamweight African-American comedian reminds me of Chris Tucker stuck in a hole two-feet deep. Hart's hyperactive loquacity, colossal impertinence, and contagious energy make him riotously funny. He could stand around and do nothing, and he would still be hilarious. "Think Like A Man" director Tim Story casts the charismatic Hart as a wacky wannabe cop cooped up in a car with Ice Cube's stoic Atlanta Police Detective in "Ride Along" (**1/2 OUT OF ****), a standard-issue, odd couple, buddy comedy with shoot-outs and explosions. A veteran cop with anger management issues, Ice Cube scowls and grimaces throughout "Ride Along" as he did in "21 Jump Street." Cube's character is obsessed with arresting an enigmatic criminal mastermind known only as Omar, but his obnoxious superior keeps reprimanding him about his rogue behavior. Story and four writers, including "Sorority Boys" scripter Greg Coolidge, newcomer Jason Mantzoukas, and "R.I.P.D" co-scribes Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, have recycled dutifully every cliché from those 1980s era police procedurals. They set up at least one gag early in the action and pay it off during the finale. Another inevitable gag involving a video gamers' microphone headset is so obviously set-up that you'd have to miss it with a trip to the concession counter or elsewhere, to overlook it. Actors John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen, and Laurence Fishburne grace this predictable, but energetic potboiler with their illustrious presence. If you've seen cop movies like "Rush Hour," "Fuzz," "48 HRS," "Training Day," and "Paul Blart, Mall Cop," you know what to expect at every turn. "Ride Along" sticks to the formula with slavish zeal, but the camaraderie between Kevin Hart and Ice Cube as polar opposites overshadows the film's sophomoric shenanigans.

Ben Barber (Kevin Hart of "Grudge Match") works as a security guard at an Atlanta area high school where he does his best to keep some of the kids in class and off the streets. Ben has a live-in girlfriend, Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter of "Sparkle"), who happens to be the sister of tough-as-nails Atlanta detective James Payton. Make no mistake; the bad-tempered Payton has nothing but contempt for the upstart Barber. He doesn't understand what Angela sees in the runt. Barber wants to marry Angela, but he feels compelled to obtain James' blessing. Imagine Barber's surprise when he learns that he has been accepted into the police academy. Barber approaches Payton with his news, and Payton challenges our pint-sized protagonist to a 'ride along' to measure his mettle. Naturally, Barber takes advantage of this opportunity and gets to don a windbreaker with POLICE stenciled across the back. Meantime, Payton gets the dispatcher to send him every annoying call so he can disillusion Barber and get on with his life. Everybody that Barber encounters winds up intimidating him, particularly Benjamin "Lil P-Nut" Flores Jr., who upstages Hart during a one-on-one scene on a basketball court. Barber is struggling to learn the whereabouts of the kid's big brother, but "Lil-P Nut" thwarts him at every turn. During the ride along, Barber contends with a gang of motorcycle riders, specifically one who appears to be a woman with some physical characteristics of a man. Eventually, after our hero learns that Payton has been trying to break his spirit with harmless but annoying incidents, he rebounds and finds himself deep in Payton's business. A scene at an Atlanta strip club puts Ben in the line of fire. Later, our heroes manage to draw out the elusive Mr. Big behind an arms deal, and all Hell breaks looses with a revelation that weights heavily on Payton. Of course, the villains target Payton's sister, and "Ride Along" shifts to the dependable damsel-in-distress subplot. By the time all the dust has settled, our two heroes have a different opinion of each other and are more amenable to each other.

Basically, "Ride Along" whittles Kevin Hart down to size before it converts him into a force to be reckoned with by the bad guys. This movie even makes video gamers look useful for something because they can differentiate between the sounds of a variety of submachine guns. Our hero employs this bit of knowledge to good effect in helping Payton capture a world class villain. Before this 99 minute opus is over, our heroes have redeemed themselves suitably enough in each other's eyes to emerge as friends, despite an amusing cook-out segment during the end credits. "Ride Along" is pretty dull when Hart isn't going full-tilt with his motor-mouth slapstick. Director Tim Story, who helmed "Taxi" and the original, live-action "Fantastic Four" franchise with Jessica Alba, maintains headlong momentum that doesn't relent and provides enough shoot-outs and tough-talking showdowns to make "Ride Along" tolerable when Hart isn't sparring with Ice Cube. Ultimately, everything boils down to Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. These two thespians have a blast playing off each other, so much so that "Ride Along" has topped the box office charts three weeks in a row. The film coined $154-million off a $25 million budget. Unfortunately, "Ride Along" qualifies as superior compared with its superficial Miami-set sequel with no surprises.

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