Ride Along: Film Review

A familiar, appealing cast and frantic action keep this franchise-ready film hitting on all cylinders.

Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Tika Sumpter and John Leguizamo co-star in Universal's new action comedy.

Kevin Hart and Ice Cube take on a bad cop-wannabe scenario in Tim Story's Ride Along, which turns out to be something like a comic riff on Training Day. Leaning more toward Hart's brand of slightly raunchy humor rather than Ice Cube's equally popular family-friendly fare, the PG-13 film exhibits broad appeal, backed by a wide-ranging marketing campaign.

With an opening timed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend and lacking any similar action-comedy competition, the release could score big for Universal in major markets.

Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) is a video game-obsessed high school security guard who's inexplicably landed in the good graces of super-cute girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). Ben plans on proposing just about any time, but the problem is that Angie's brother, hardcore undercover Atlanta police officer James Payton (Ice Cube), is completely paranoid about protecting his younger sister's welfare after the years they spent in foster homes growing up.

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Ben thinks he's found the ideal solution when he's accepted for police academy training, expecting James to welcome him into the family, but his new career opportunity makes little impression and Ben remains unable to obtain the irascible cop's approval.

Then James hits on a scheme he thinks will definitively discourage Ben, saying he'll give the wannabe cop a chance to prove he's really police department material by surviving a ride-along in James' department-issued muscle car. "You've got one day and one day only to show me what you got," James tells him. Ben jumps at the chance to show his worth, although he quickly begins to wonder if he's made the best choice when he's plunged into James's slightly sketchy investigation of a local gun-running crime lord.

Working behind the scenes with junior officers Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen), James sets Ben up for a day of embarrassing pranks typically played on rookie cops. The series of incidents proves repeatedly humiliating for Ben, but the odd thing is that he keeps turning up clues on James' investigation of Serbian arms dealers and a developing plot to supply one of Atlanta's most nefarious criminals.

Deploying a conspicuously broad brand of humor and just about every buddy-cop movie convention at its disposal, the screenwriting team of Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi exploits Ben's desperation for easy, repetitive gags that nonetheless elicit a fair amount of laughs, due mainly to the charisma of the principal performers.

As the weary veteran cop intent on cracking a big case and shaking off his lame sidekick, Ice Cube exudes the requisite scorn for his would-be partner, constantly setting him up and putting him down with a sneer and a chuckle. Cube's comic timing can't be faulted, but he doesn't appear to muster much enthusiasm for the role, relying more on his well-worn persona than a real commitment to the performance.

The same can't be said for Hart, who over-commits in a big way, but grabs the majority of laughs for his outrageous over-reaching and self-ridicule. If anything, it's all a bit excessive, and intentionally so, although it's a technique that begins to show some wear midway through the film. One of Hart's greatest assets is his nonstop motor-mouth, and the screenwriters give him plenty of opportunities to spew utterly inane statements and commit outrageous blunders. The running gag associating Ben's skill at military-themed video games and his ability to identify exotic weaponry gets plenty of mileage and remains well-integrated with the main plot.

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Supporting castmembers register solidly, although talented Tika Sumpter doesn't have much to do other than sitting pretty until the bad guys inevitably show up. Leguizamo has a nice turn as James' semi-psycho subordinate, and Callen is suitably standoffish as the police department's oft-put-upon lieutenant.

Since the film's largely schematic subplot about Serbian gunrunners can't manage much in the way of originality, it's fortunate that Story knows his way around a comedy. Together with the screenwriters, he keeps the jokes and gags coming at a furious clip, most of which land nicely, thanks to the leads' skilled timing. The rapport between Story and his Think Like a Man actor pays dividends here, as Hart ramps up his routine to a near-manic level.

With Universal already planning a Ride Along 2, hopefully the holiday weekend turnout manages to fulfill the studio's expectations regarding the film's early promise.

Production companies: Cubevision, Rainforest Films
Cast: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne, Dragos Bucur
Director: Tim Story
Screenwriters: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Producers: Will Packer, Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez, Larry Brezner
Executive producers: Nicolas Stern, Ron Muhammad, Chris Bender, JC Spink
Director of photography: Larry Blanford
Production designer: Chris Cornwell
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Editor: Craig Alpert

Rated PG-13, 100 minutes