Kevin Hart has been making a name for himself – with highly successful stand-up, praiseworthy talk-show guest hosting, and unexpected popularity in theaters. Hart’s actually appeared in quite a few movies over the last 10 years or so, generally in supporting roles. But, with last year’s Think Like A Man, a low budget rom-com that ended up earning $92 million, his own Hollywood currency has taken a big uptick. That was followed by last July’s Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which netted over $32 million – exceptional for a comedy concert film. With his box office clout consistently rising, it would be no surprise to see Ride Along open 1st this weekend despite being formulaic and a new product, compared to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which builds on an established brand, and opens on over 700 more screens.
Ride Along tells the story of Ben, a young, idealistic Gen-Y’er whose insouciance irritates Ice Cube’s Detective James Payton so much he refuses to bless Ben’s marriage to Payton’s sister, Angela. Payton agrees to take Ben on a police ride along, with Ben determined to prove his mettle to Payton, while Payton conspires to subvert Ben’s plan. The rookie/veteran cop comedy is a variation on the buddy cop comedy, and though it’s often declared an over-mined and dead genre, The Heat proved just 6 months ago that as long as the studios keep making them, the movie going public’s appetite for them seems endless.
A natural chemistry between Ice Cube and Kevin Hart is evident even off camera, as seen in this interview:
As expected there must be a sinister plot uncovered. That plotline is fairly standard, harking back to Beverly Hills Cop and surely even older examples. The second plotline involves Ben’s relationship with Angela and their marital fate. This hangs in the balance pending the outcome of the ride along, but the two characters relate nicely, and their relationship serves as the source for a lot of silly couples humor. One very funny-because-it’s-awkward scene involves Ben explaining to Angela why his online gaming character is called Black Hammer, when he’s unfortunately left his gaming headset turned on. The explanation is funny, but the gamers’ reactions punctuate the scene.
The meat of this film naturally rises from Hart’s comedic talents. Rapid fire banter often overwhelms other characters, but unlike Chris Tucker’s pestering, Hart combines his chatter with an undeniable likeability grounded in an almost Jim Carry-esque but not over-the-top angelic smile he’s quick to flash whenever his words test the bounds of propriety. There’s a scene midway through the film, at a gun range, where Payton is supposed to still dislike Ben. Ice Cube scowls and grimaces as best he can, but Hart wont stop yammering, and there’s no hiding it’s all Ice Cube can do to keep a straight face. It’s possible they gave up trying to get a shot of Payton looking genuinely angry.
Hart also has a strong sense of caricature and slapstick, both used decently here, but might prove to be his strongest comedic skills in future films. While physical comedy features throughout the film, with echoes of Jackie Chan percolating in fight scenes, the best example remains early in the film when, Ã la Jerry Lewis, Ben knocks himself out with an end table.
The cinematographer, writers, and Hart himself all deserve mention for making use of his diminutive stature. At 5″2′, he’s short by even Hollywood standards. While many films go to great lengths to hide actors’ differing heights, Ride Along highlights it at every turn. Small children tease him, it serves the fight choreography very well, and the cameras are positioned to accentuate how tall the bad guys are he faces off with, or how small he seems to them. These exaggerated camera angles alone are funny.
Kevin Hart is a multi-threat comedy talent who elevates Ride Along with a diverse skillset that keeps things humming even when the script gets thin. If Kevin Hart can get out of the rom-com and buddy cop comedy mills, and headline something as unique or bombastic as The Mask, or Tropic Thunder, or The Hangover – big things will happen. Until then, expect Ride Along to only enhance Hart’s bankability.
Ride Along is copyright 2014 Universal Studios.