If you’ve recently watched Antoine Fuqua’s hard-bitten 2001 cop drama ‘Training Day’ and found yourself imagining what it would look like with a zippy comedic cast and a bizarrely convoluted plotline, Tim Story’s 'Ride Along' is the answer to your oddly specific cinematic dreams. For the latest round of big screen "good cop, bad cop, dumb cop," Kevin Hart and Ice Cube star as diametrically opposed do-gooders with very different ways of getting things done, even as they both rigorously adhere to the letter of the law.

Hart plays Ben Barber, a high school security guard desperate to get into the police academy so that he can have a career he’s proud of, that his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter) is proud of, and that Angela’s hardass brother James (Ice Cube) is proud of. Ben just has a lot of issues regarding self worth, okay? And that’s fine (and sort of sweet, really). Ben is almost excessively well meaning, like an overgrown puppy filled with sweetness, an eager attitude, and a misplaced affection for jumping on things (especially James). Conversely, James is all swagger and punch, a badass lone wolf in a leather jacket who doesn’t have any interest in making friends (oddly, that sort of attitude would probably serve James well on televised reality show). You can probably guess where this is all going.

In fact, even without saddling its lead actors with well-worn tropes that they both attempt to (quite admirably) inject with something approaching style and humor, ‘Ride Along’ suffers from a profound sense of been-there-done-that. There’s nothing particularly original about the actual plot of ‘Ride Along,’ and it smacks of nearly every other comedic cop film of recent vintage (from ‘Lethal Weapon’ all the way up to something far more recent like ‘The Heat’). Packed with obvious plot movements and barely exciting twists, ‘Ride Along’ is a perfectly acceptable entry into the genre, but it’s an almost wholly forgettable one.

Ben’s dream of becoming a police officer appears to finally be coming true and, with an acceptance letter from the police academy in his hot little hand (oh, did we mention that Kevin Hart is short? because such information is repeated ad nauseum in the film, catnip for bad jokes that nearly every character cracks at one point or another), he and Angela attempt to celebrate their good fortune. Their domestic reverie is broken, however, by a lurking James, who finds it acceptable to break into Angela and Ben’s apartment and creep around in the dark until they come home. James’ behavior is, well, creepy, but Ben’s reaction is almost worse – he shoves Angela into the path of perceived danger, runs away, and knocks himself out. James is not impressed.

James soon hits on a solid idea – take “pre-cadet” Ben on a ride along, show him the ropes, get him used to cop life (read: take Ben on a ride along, totally screw with his head, get him to quit his cop dream and maybe also his sister). He needs his sister’s man to “show and prove” to him his worth as a man. Ben is, of course, overjoyed at the idea, and spends the day accidentally untangling a major case for James, attempting to show off the only tactical skills he has (he’s good at video games), and texting Angela (one of the very best gags in the entire film is Ben’s use of an emoticon to end a chat with Angela, a tiny black hammer meant to approximate his gamer tag, “Black Hammer”). Unsurprisingly, the duo get into a number of scrapes, and the film eventually abandons comedy for harder action that at least flirts with bigger consequences.

Hart’s particular brand of humor involves lots of high-pitched and fast-paced screeching and, against all odds, it actually works for the comedian. While his comedic chops are by no means stretched in ‘Ride Along,’ Hart’s comedic timing is consistently on display, and he’s often the best thing in any given scene. When bouncing off of Mr. Cube’s tough guy act, the duo is consistently amusing, and they simply need better material to make their performances pay off. No, the world doesn’t need ‘Ride Along 2,’ but it just might want another Hart and Cube team-up.


'Ride Along' opens in theaters on January 17.

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