Since its rise in popularity during the 1980s, the buddy-cop action comedy genre has provided us with seemingly thousands of terrific, memorable cinematic moments, with titles like 48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon and Tango & Cash continuing to stand the test of time as classics. Over the last few decades, filmmakers have worked to keep the genre fresh and interesting, taking new approaches to characters and story and trying to tackle both the comedy and the action from a different perspective -- but unfortunately there are also those out there that make no effort to try anything new and instead seem content to let the genre slip into staleness.
Director Tim Story’s Ride Along is sadly one of the latter.
Based on a long in-development script written and rewritten by multiple screenwriters including Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the new film follows Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), a video game-loving high school security guard who dreams of two things: getting married to his long-time girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter); and joining the police academy to become a real cop. There is, however, one thing standing in the way of both goals: Detective James Payton (Ice Cube), Angela’s intimidating older brother who believes that Ben isn’t enough of a man for the sister that he helped raise. When Ben approaches James for permission to ask for Angela’s hand, James devises a plan to scare the boyfriend off for good by offering the chance for a ride along in a cop car patrolling the streets of Atlanta and experiencing the madness that comes with being a real police officer.
Innovative and interesting as the film’s logline may be, Ride Along wastes zero time showing off its unoriginal colors. The very first scene after the credits roll has James working undercover, having things go bad, and then acting like a wildcard to save the day – a.k.a. the exact same introduction to both Axel Foley and Martin Riggs in Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. From there, save for a few video game references that put the story in a more modern context, the movie becomes a string of sequences that we’ve seen hundreds of times over the last 30 years, from the standard skill display (or lack thereof) at the gun range to the gag where a normally cowardly character faces down a gun he thinks is fake but isn’t. This would be fine if the script were to try and be self-referential in any way, or at the very least had enough funny jokes to buoy the material, but the writers didn’t even seem to bother.
Those hoping that the “action” half of the “action comedy” might make up for the film’s lack of laughs will be let down as well. To Story’s credit, the movie does open with a bang, featuring Cube’s character getting caught in a firefight and a big car chase, but that’s as big as the film ever really gets. Save for one big explosion towards the end of the film and a few small scenes of gunplay, most of the movie is just Ben and James going from place to place either just talking to people or dealing with what the movie literally says are “annoying calls to haze rookies.” Is the tepidness of the action perhaps more realistic than what we normally see in buddy cop movies? Probably – but it doesn’t make very good fodder for a film.
There is a great buddy movie that could be made starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube as the leads, but that fact only makes Ride Along more disappointing. While I could count the number of times I laughed during the movie on one hand, it’s hard to deny that the stars have some fun chemistry together as a double act, with Hart’s endless energy serving well with Cube’s stoicism and threatening demeanor. As much as their first collaboration feels like a wasted opportunity, you still feel like there’s something great that could be mined from their pairing in another context.