Kevin Hart is one of the funniest stand-up comics in America, and with the right role he could become a major movie star. Unfortunately, Ride Along doesn’t provide that role. This is a dull entry in the buddy cop genre that doesn’t provide a single genuine laugh. Sacrificing comedy for action late in the movie doesn’t help.
Hart stars as Ben Barber, a video game loving security guard at an Atlanta high school. He’s in love with Angela (Tika Sumpter), but before she’ll agree to marry him she wants the blessing of her brother, James (Ice Cube), a hard-boiled cop. The problem is that James trusts no one, certainly not this short man whom he thinks is a buffoon (and once accidentally set him on fire at a barbeque). Ben hopes that his being accepted into the police academy will be enough to impress James, but no such luck. He has to prove his worth by surviving a ride along with the veteran officer.
The big day gets off to a rocky start when Ben awakens to find James sitting by his bed (“Good cops get up before the criminals”). It gets even worse because James has secretly requested that all the “126s” (annoying cases that nobody wants) be sent his way. When Ben attempts to move a loitering group of bikers, he only succeeds in getting spit on. When he tries to question a kid, he ends up being mistaken for a pedophile. Before long, however, the fun is over and Ben finds himself involved in James’ pursuit of Omar, an arms dealer who’s never been seen before.
Ride Along’s biggest problem is its script. Credited to four writers (never a good sign), it doesn’t contain one funny or memorable line. Scenes of Hart trying and failing to exert his authority fall flat, and a scene where he doesn’t realize he’s in danger at a strip club is too implausible to work. But at least those scenes try to be funny. The movie takes a turn for the worse when the tone shifts and James is suddenly revealing his tragic backstory. That might work in a police drama, but it’s out of place here. In the third act, attempts to get laughs are thrown out and substituted with gun fights and hostage situations. Everyone who will buy a ticket to see Kevin Hart as an action hero raise your hand.
Despite the lack of humor, Hart has an engaging screen presence and gives us someone to root for here. Ice Cube is effective as the straight man, although not as good as he was playing an angry police captain in 2012’s 21 Jump Street. (That movie was funny on its own, and compared to Ride Along it’s a masterpiece.) The always great Laurence Fishburne is effectively menacing in a small role, but Tika Sumpter is given nothing to do as Hart’s love interest. Veteran actor Bruce McGill ably handles the thankless role of the police lieutenant.
Getting the chance to headline a movie is exciting for anybody, but it’s important to choose the right project. Hart hasn’t done that here. He has to be careful to select roles that display his talents rather than simply put him in action situations that could be filled by anybody. It’s a good thing he has stand-up to fall back on.