Film Review: Ride Along

Veteran cop tries to bully his sister's boyfriend until both are embroiled in a terrorism case in this slapdash but effective comedy.

Sloppy but good-natured, Ride Along updates a durable buddy-cop formula as a vehicle for Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. Fans will find enough to like in this crude, boisterous package, but even they will sense that this is largely recycled material.

The 48 Hrs. template—seasoned but surly cop matched with an obnoxious newbie—works just fine adjusted to present-day Atlanta. Ice Cube plays James Payton, a street-smart, outside-the-box police detective, while Hart is Ben Barber, a cop wannabe working as a high-school security guard. Ordinarily the two would never meet, but Barber is living with Payton's sister Angela (Tika Sumpter), and Payton is determined to break them up.

Payton offers, well, orders Barber to accompany him on a "ride along" to find out just how dangerous a cop's job can be. With his partners Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen), Payton stages fake incidents, like a drunk exhibitionist disrupting a farmers' market, to frighten and humiliate Barber.

At the same time, Payton has been obsessing over shadowy criminal mastermind Omar (a late-arriving Laurence Fishburne). When Barber inadvertently uncovers important clues, he and Payton find themselves in a real-life and deadly arms deal.

Flimsy as it is, the plot is mostly just an excuse for Hart to riff on assorted subjects. He's bested by a pint-sized witness on a basketball court, terrorized by a motorcycle gang, and knocked silly at a shooting range—all provoking incensed tirades directed at a bemused Ice Cube.

Hart's motor-mouth shtick can veer pretty quickly into grating, but by positioning him as the victim of most of the jokes, the movie succeeds in making him likeable. And when he's on, Hart can be hilarious. Arguing over who gets to use the police car radio, trying to spin Ice Cube's "terrible" into "greatable," hitting on dancers in the middle of a raid, he's so energized he browbeats viewers into submission.

Ice Cube hasn't had this big a role in a while. He lets Hart take charge, responding with a variety of disgusted snarls, but his character does have some choice moments. When a chase breaks out, Payton refuses to commandeer a Prius, grabbing a cherry-red pickup truck instead. Thankfully, the screenwriters don't try to reform the cop, who remains angry and aggressive to the end. And few actors can deliver a word like "loitering" with as much menace.

Ride Along isn't going to win any screenwriting prizes, or directing awards for that matter. By the time the climax unfolds, even the stars seem tired of the whole project. But despite its flaws, Ride Along is a painless and often funny way to hang with two appealing performers.