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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Review: Lackluster characters bust cop comedy

"Ride Along"

Directed by Tim Story

A surly, bearded man leans menacingly over the table toward a hungry-eyed hustler, both anticipating a lucrative deal.

The covert meeting is a setup meant to bring undercover cop James Payton (Ice Cube) one step closer to busting the the elusive Omar (Laurence Fishburne), king of Atlanta’s criminal underground . When the ambush is sabotaged by an unknown source, a public shootout and subsequent high-speed car chase ensues, ending with James’ truck bursting through the red-hot flames of an explosion just in time to catch the runaway offender.

But when this tough-as-nails police officer must answer a perpetually optimistic Ben Barber’s (Kevin Hart) request to marry James’ baby sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), James is taken aback. He dares Ben to prove himself worthy of Angela by gaining his respect on patrol. “Ride Along,” directed by Tim Story, chronicles the misadventures that follow. Ben, a high school security guard with ambitions to become a full-fledged police officer, is thrilled to “hit the streets” with his future brother-in-law.

However, a mean-spirited James rigs the outing and subjects the blindly enthusiastic Ben to many meaningless and embarrassing tasks out of spite. Ben is pitted against a loitering motorcycle gang, a smart-mouthed youngster and a stripped-down drunkard who covers himself in honey during a grocery store showdown. Despite his apparent incompetence, Ben manages to uncover clues that lead the unlikely duo to a Serbian arms deal with the city’s most ruthless criminal mastermind.

Hart’s quick comedy is the film’s centerpiece. The 5-foot-2 jokester delivers laughs with his shouty, long-winded rants. His fast-talking character attempts to hold his own even against an assortment of hardened law-breakers, despite his humorously unintimidating appearance. In one scene, Hart’s character mocks two gun-toting crooks in a hostage situation, not realizing the danger he is in. Viewers will find themselves clutching their sides in appreciation of Hart’s no-holds-barred antics.

Ice Cube’s character, however, remains unsmiling. His bullying portrayal of the rule-bending James lacks imagination and, consequently, evades the audience’s sympathy. Ice Cube is poutier than he is effectively menacing, appearing childish even in the midst of Hart’s own brand of amusing foolishness. Though providing a foil for Hart’s character, Ice Cube’s remarkably flat acting dilutes the pair’s chemistry.

Fishburne’s villain appears to be the most convincing character, but his screen time is disappointingly scarce. With his intimidating stature and chillingly cheerful smile, Fishburne exudes menace as the previously faceless criminal puppeteer. The villain’s entrance is recognized at once, and the cold-blooded murder of an injured lackey cements his position as a tangible threat. Fishburne’s unsavory character is never really explored, and the film soon returns to spineless comedy.

Other characters are marginalized, including Ben’s girlfriend, Angela, and James’ unappreciated but equally cruel partners, Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen). Their characters are penned somewhat crudely by the screenwriters and provide little more than the fulfillment of plot points. The story itself is a run-of-the-mill cop comedy with all the usual suspects, livened only by Kevin Hart’s comedic outbursts.

The film includes some slapstick violence, entertaining impersonations and many explosions that keep the movie running a little longer. However, the generic flick fails to generate any real suspense, even in the final life-or-death showdown, and it ends predictably.

While the movie succeeds where Kevin Hart is concerned, the story is unoriginal and the characters lack depth. Cheap laughs and cheaper tricks keep the audience chuckling, but without real substance, “Ride Along” is mostly unmemorable.