Comedian-turned-actor Kevin Hart has expressed his desire to have a career like Eddie Murphy‘s, but anyone who has sat through recent Murphy big-screen vehicles like “A Thousand Words,” “Norbit,” “Meet Dave” or “Imagine That” might put Hart’s aspirations in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for column.
And while the mismatched-buddy-cop formula of “48 Hrs.” gave Murphy’s career an effective kickstart back in the 1980s, Hart’s similarly themed “Ride Along” feels like the copy of the copy of the copy of Murphy’s influential hit.
Instead of Murphy’s wiseacre convict, we get Hart as Ben, a motor-mouthed video game fanatic who spends the day with his prospective brother-in-law James (Ice Cube), a rule-breaking cop on the hunt for an elusive crime kingpin.
(James, like Nick Nolte‘s character in “48 Hrs.” is the kind of policeman whose short-tempered supervisor is constantly threatening to take him off the case.)
Ben wants to marry James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter, “A Madea Christmas”) and go to the police academy, but James hopes to frighten him out of both ambitions by putting the fast-talking gamer geek in a series of hazardous situations over the course of one day’s ride-along. But wouldn’t you know it, Ben stumbles upon one clue after another and proves himself to a more effective sidekick than James originally thought.
There’s nothing wrong with a familiar framework, as long as the filmmakers can find a new way to amuse and thrill the audience. But writers Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi give us scene after scene of a sputtering Hart and a glowering Ice Cube, despite the fact that they were brilliantly funny in, respectively, “Think Like a Man” and “Barbershop,” their previous collaborations with “Ride Along” director Tim Story.
How lazy is this script? Hart bluffs like a tough-guy in a strip-joint scene that’s nearly identical to Murphy’s legendary “48 Hrs.” showdown in a redneck bar. Sumpter, as the film’s only female character with more than five lines of dialogue, eventually gets stuck being a hostage. There’s a “surprise” twist that any attentive viewer will see coming from miles away. The first driving-through-a-fireball sequence happens during the opening credits. And Hart refers to a bearded-lady biker chick as a “thing.” Twice.
The movie can’t even find a way for “SNL” cast member Jay Pharoah to use his talents for either comedy or mimickry, instead wasting him on a nothing bit part as a twitchy snitch.
“Ride Along” isn’t utterly bereft of laughs, but its flagrant waste of these talented performers feels, at the very least, like a missed opportunity.
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