Three things you should know about Ride Along: it’s got someone who calls himself ‘Lil P-Nut’ listed amongst its cast; Ice Cube’s funniest moment involves his straight-faced reading of the line ‘Thanks Assface’; and Laurence Fishburne turns up at one point, doing a pretty good impersonation of Laurence Fishburne slumming it.
If you’re happy with all that, then Ride Along is for you. If you’re wavering, let me try a pitch to sum up the film’s deft play with narrative and genre convention. Here goes: ‘Kevin Hart and Ice Cube go on a ride along’. No? Come on …
To be fair, Ride Along doesn’t pretend to have any ambition beyond what its trailer has already shown us. Ice Cube is a serious cop. Kevin Hart is a funny sidekick. Let’s put them in a comedy situation, see what happens, and repeat. All that character development stuff can wait until the last five minutes, during which time we’ll also set up a sequel so we can do it all over again. Only this time they’ll both be cops!
Let me start over with nicer words. Ride Along is actually pretty funny when it wants to be. Especially when it lets Kevin Hart be Kevin Hart, rather than shrill comic relief guy. Hart has been stealing scenes with just the briefest of screen time in recent years – Death at a Funeral, 40 Year Old Virgin, Scary Movie 4 (and yes, I realise it probably wasn’t a stretch to be the best thing in Scary Movie 4, but still …). Ride Along gives him due reward for all that. There’s not a joke that lands when he’s off screen, not a moment to remember outside of some clumsily orchestrated violence and a casual misogyny in how the film features a woman in peril wearing just a vest and tight shorts (the 90s did happen, right?).
Comedy pratfalls, rapid fire delivery, macho posturing, sympathetic figure – director Tim Story and the film’s five writers (!) throw everything his way and he hits it all out the park. If there’s any justice Ride Along 2 will feature 89 minutes of Hart, and one minute of Ice Cube looking scornful and then saying ‘Damn!’.
Where Story lets him down, however, is in giving him nothing to work with. Ice Cube is essentially playing a frown. A really large frown. And the film’s big villain turns up so late in the day that he’s nothing more than an afterthought, a plot device to move us into the third act and the generic pay-off. It’s the movie equivalent of a drive through – ‘I’ll have some mild threat, laboured dramatic tension, and a jarring shift in tone on the side please’. Cinematic junk food.
What’s curious is whether Story knows how meta he’s being here. Early on in the film, Bruce McGill’s police captain berates Ice Cube’s renegade cop for being just a slightly bit over the top in destroying half the city to catch a petty thief. ‘This isn’t a video game’, he yells, ‘there are consequences’. Ride Along is a film entirely free of consequence. Nothing matters. Is Story enjoying his own private joke in seeing America flock to a film that points a finger at the obsession with video game violence and misogyny?Probably not. But just thinking about that does enough to fill the gaps when Kevin Hart goes AWOL.
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