I heard a radio spot on my drive to the screening for “Ride Along” that spoke quite highly of it, in which it called star Kevin Hart the funniest man in America and the film itself as “the first great comedy of the year.” “Who said these things,” I wondered, before realizing that the quotes weren’t actually attributed to anyone. In television commercials, studios use quick blurbs from critics that inflate the film in an effort to get people to go see it.
It was a smart move to use the same tactic on the radio, because unassuming listeners will assume the quote is lifted from a professional and not simply said by a paid announcer. I imagine this kind of deception is the only way they’ll be able to get people to see “Ride Along” because, despite a couple of legitimate laughs, it’s largely unwatchable.
Hart plays Ben, an aspiring police officer who corresponds actual police work with his first person shooter video games. He is in love with Angela (Tika Sumpter) and wishes to marry her, but to do that, he needs the approval of the only other man in her life, her intimidating, hard boiled brother, James (Ice Cube).
James doesn’t like Ben and doesn’t consider him a good fit for his sister, much less a potential member of his police squad. However, Ben wants to show James that he’s a man, so James, under the ruse of giving him a chance, offers to give him a ride along. For a full day, Ben will head out with James on his police duties and James plans to make it as uncomfortable as possible to deter him from both marrying his sister and entering the police force.
Upon first impression, it’s clear that “Ride Along” is going to be a visually ugly movie. Its drab colors, no doubt increased by the desire to be satirical of “gritty” buddy cop crime dramas, pervade the screen. Its shot composition is equally unpleasing to the eye, with close-ups even extreme close-ups would consider a bit much and framing so bad it’s hard to actually read the narratively important letter the film lingers on in close-up.
But these issues are minor when in a comedy. Comedies only need to be funny. A weak story and poor visuals don’t carry much weight when you’re laughing hysterically. Unfortunately, “Ride Along” musters up only a few laughs in its 100 minute runtime. Hart, while okay in small bursts or as a supporting character (like in 2012’s surprisingly good “Think Like a Man”), is grating in long stretches. Like a miniaturized Chris Tucker, he equates comedy to spastic mannerisms and furiously fast talking. When not restrained, he overdoes this and “Ride Along” is anything but restrained.
When he’s called on for physical comedy, he’s equally bad and overacts to an absurd degree. But the real problem this film faces is that its jokes are tired and obvious. It’s easy to spot these jokes coming well before they actually appears, like when Ben is blown back by the recoil of a shotgun that is about the size of one of his legs. In a sense, Kevin Hart is treated like a reverse Kevin James, the latter always abused because of his large weight and the former treated like a feather in the wind.
The story also lacks the satirical bite it occasionally tries to capture, often succumbing to the very things it mocks. When James is laid into by the police chief for being reckless, it’s not played tongue-in-cheek as it should be; it’s taken grossly seriously. Similarly, the twist (spoiler alert!) is your typical double agent twist that is painfully clear the moment you see the person or persons in question near the beginning of the film.
When you factor in the desperate dialogue that tries so hard to throw you off the scent that it ends up doing the exact opposite – the double agent(s) repeatedly tell James he should give up the investigation for a variety of reasons – the movie becomes nothing more than another disastrous January turd. If you want to see a good buddy cop satire, watch “21 Jump Street.” You won’t find much value in “Ride Along.”