It’s excusable at this point in popular culture for buddy cop comedies to be formulaic as long as they deliver the goods, get from point A to point B, and they never find a way to screw it all up. Given the talent involved with the latest entry into the genre, Ride Along, it should have been like Michael Jordan dunking on a six foot high hoop in an empty arena. Tim Story (Fantastic Four) re-teams with his two greatest collaborators – Ice Cube (Barbershop) and Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man, his stand-up concert films) – to make one of the easiest to make films. While it’s barely passable matinee entertainment for those who simply want a couple of chuckles from a duo with great chemistry, it still only feels like the first draft of what could have been a much more enjoyable outing.
Hart stars as Ben Barber, a short, wimpy, motor-mouthed video game enthusiast dating a gorgeous woman (Tika Sumpter) that’s inexplicably in love with him. Ben works as a security guard at a high school, but he’s recently been accepted to the Atlanta Police Department training program. Ben sees this as a potential in with his fiancée’s gruff older brother, vice cop James Peyton (Cube), whose approval he so desperately seeks. In an effort to rid the little shrimp from his sister’s life forever, James agrees to take Ben on a 24-hour long ride along, taking him on annoying no-win calls in hopes the abuse will make him simply give up and walk away. However, it’s only a matter of time before James gets Ben caught up in the longest cases of his career: busting a crime kingpin and arms smuggler named Omar that no one has ever seen before.
There isn’t a single moment that can’t be telegraphed from the second every character appears on screen. Ben’s video game savvy will somehow bail the duo out of tough situations. James will let his guard drop long enough to explain why he’s such a lone wolf on the force. James’ gruff superior (a wonderful and purposefully clichéd Bruce McGill) will chew him out every time they are on screen together. Ben’s inability to shut up will get them into hot water. Every character actor in the movie who seems like they have nothing to do will turn out to be more than they seem. There isn’t a solitary surprise to be found, making it somewhat baffling that it took four writers to piecemeal this thing together, especially with the whole thing being so nonsensical and illogical to begin with.
And yet, that still isn’t the biggest problem with. And Cube and Hart aren’t to blame, either, especially with someone like Story at the helm playing to both actors’ obvious strength. Cube glowers, sneers, and laughs at the misfortunes of some punks as well as he normally does. Hart gets to change the pitch of his voice every few seconds, acts taller than he is, runs at the mouth, and does some pretty great bits of physical comedy. They are the perfect choices for a buddy cop film, and the film’s best scenes (Ben trying to take down a man in a supermarket that’s shirtless and covering himself in honey, James acting crazy to get an informant to spill his guts) hint at a much better movie that is trying desperately to come to the surface.
The real problem that makes its contrivances inexcusable is that it’s too genial and sanitized to have any impact. A buddy cop film with two stars of this calibre shouldn’t be a PG-13 affair. It should be an all out snark-fest that just lets both of its stars run wild and off the chain. Story can’t make that kind of movie. Story constructs the film to appeal to the widest range of people possible without offending anyone beyond the one or two well placed curse words that make a film crowd pleasing without it ever being dirty. The action gets cut down somewhat despite a moderately high body count. The relationship between the leads gets played more for minor annoyance instead of genuine conflict. It’s a concept that’s so easy almost anyone can pull it off, but Story really doesn’t have the conviction to just let Cube and Hart do what you can almost see them aching to do.
Ride Along is practically made for home viewing, and while I don’t necessarily have a problem with ever watching it again on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I just hope that somewhere there’s an R-rated or “unrated” cut of the film. People want to watch Hart and Cube act as over the top as possible, not restrained to fit some kind of sanitized vision of a genre that only works at its dirtiest. When you combine a script that never deviates from a set playbook and a director seemingly too at odds with doing anything potentially risqué, it just comes across as dull and kind of pointless over all. To go back to the opening sports analogy, this film is more like only hitting a single in a game of Tee-ball played by grown adults.