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In Movies & TV Reviews

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart star in "Ride Along," now playing.

Go along with the flawed but funny "Ride Along"

There are several moments during the new buddy cop action-comedy "Ride Along" where the movie stops dead in its tracks, takes five or 10 minutes and simply becomes an opportunity for Kevin Hart to endlessly riff or do some glorified stand-up. Make no mistake: Ice Cube might share top billing with the budding superstar comedian, but this is Hart's vehicle. Mr. Cube, taking a break from menacing Coors Light cans, is the one merely riding along.

As a result, much of your enjoyment of the movie depends on your tolerance for Hart, who's suddenly everywhere. "Ride Along" marks his second movie in less than a month (the other being "Grudge Match," where he was one of the few sparks of life in an otherwise embarrassingly decrepit film), and he has a third, an African American-led remake of "About Last Night," set for February. The oven is hot, and Hart is striking it hard.

I've never particularly warmed up to Hart's particular brand of comedy. His hyper-energetic shtick – a mix of Vince Vaughn's fast-talking smartass routine with a squirrel who's been on a 24-hour IV drip of Mountain Dew and cocaine – has traditionally left me more exhausted than entertained.

"Ride Along," however, actually manages to find a fair balance with its breakout star, mildly tempering Hart's manic mugging while still allowing him to retain his signature chaotic jolt of comedic electricity. And the rest of the film works as an entertaining conduit for his still considerably funny charge.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the movie is pretty amusing. But that doesn't exactly mean that it's a technically good movie.

The story – coming from a team of four screenwriters – is predictable, formulaic mismatched buddy cop stuff. Before Ben (Hart), a wannabe cop-in-training who's gained most of his knowledge about police duty from video games and cop movies, can propose to his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, lovely in a throw-away role), he has to get a blessing from her brother, overly aggressive, hard-as-nails renegade Atlanta cop James Payton (Ice Cube).

James thinks Angela can do significantly better than the immature beacon of misplaced confidence Ben, so he takes his future brother-in-law out on patrol for a day, hoping to scare him out of both marrying his sister and becoming a cop. While he sets up all sorts of embarrassing and intimidating errands for Ben, James tracks down actual leads on a feared gangster known only by the name Omar (a brief paycheck-collecting appearance from Lawrence Fishburne).

And that's as close to "The Wire" as "Ride Along" gets.

From there, when it's not taking a break for Hart to riff for ten minutes, the contrived plot goes pretty much exactly where it's expected. The big twist around the two-third mark is obvious from about the second scene (a part of that twist – equally predictable – is like a screenwriting hit-and-run: It shows up and then is never seen or heard from again), and even rookies to the buddy cop genre can see where the relationship between James and Ben is going, down to the exact story beats. Even the tried-and-true "secretly overhearing the hurtful truth" scene gets dredged out of the hacky cliché playbook.

Though he's dabbled in light action (namely the "Fantastic Four" movies), director Tim Story has no flair for it. The geography and logic of the action, especially in the opening action sequence, are lost in the editing. At best it's bland, tensionless and indifferently directed. He does know how to flip a car well, though.

What Story does do well (and what's really more important to the success of the film) is get good chemistry and banter from his cast, something apparent all the way back to his 2002 surprise hit "Barbershop." They're no Crockett and Tubbs or Riggs and Murtaugh (or heck, even Bullock and McCarthy), but Hart and Ice Cube have an entertaining wild man/straight man antagonism together.

They – and especially Hart, less desperate and more loose – are able to sell the most obvious punch lines for at least a chuckle. Take, for instance, a run-in with some gangsters at a strip club. It's a predictable, contrived scene, but Hart manages to give it some surprisingly fun, comedic pop.

Even though the script contrives several similar scenarios for humor's sake (and uneasily relies a lot on violence for humor), a lot of it ends up solidly funny. By the end, I was surprised how consistently I was laughing. Maybe not any huge laughs – "Ride Along" plays it too safe to really get any massive reactions – but enough to leave feeling satisfied. It may be formula, but it's one for success. Tepid success, but success of any sort in January is rare to find.

Theaters and showtimes for Ride Along Rating:


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