Haphazard ‘Ride Along’ suffers from forgettable story

By Gary Clift

Apparently Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 movie “Training Day” is some sort of historic touchstone for movie-makers. I have seen it referred to a couple of times recently in films. And now there’s a comedy version of the story out, and it is called “Ride Along.”

I call it a comedy. There are lots of familiar comic situations and even a few working jokes. It stars little Kevin Hart, a comedian who has a talent for manic dissembling. Most of the humor in the film is supposed to originate with his patented all-bluster short-guy character. Sometimes that schtick is funny here.

The film’s other stars are Ice Cube, whose talent is a sort of stumpy intransigence. He was the star of the “Friday” movies, but I’m not certain he is ever intentionally funny in “Ride Along.” He is playing Hart’s straight man, the police detective brother of the girl Hart’s character wants to marry.

And then there’s Laurence Fishburne, an accomplished American actor with not enough to do, playing the villain. When Fishburne’s character is on, its as if the movie was suddenly in color. But he’s not in it much.

Director Tim Story did the “Fantastic Four” movies and “Think Like a Man.” You can ask yourself if those credits would seem to qualify him to film Hart’s comedy vehicle.

The story is so routine as to be eminently forgettable. Remember “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”? Well, Hart plays a character named Ben who, like Paul Blart, wants to be a police officer. Also like Blart, Ben has taken a security guard job while waiting to get into the academy.

Ben asks James (Cube) for the hand of his sister (played by Tika Sumpter). With no apparent end in view, James invites Ben to go along with him as he works the following day for the Atlanta, Georgia police department. The detective is fixed on finding a mysterious criminal mastermind named Omar, and that case may be coming to a head.

But James begins his day with his brother-in-law to-be by asking a dispatcher to send him all the nuisance calls she gets. Supposedly his idea is that Ben will find these annoying and will quit wanting to be a cop. Anyway, I think that’s the idea.

They go to roust bikers who are parked in a handicap space. Ben sputters at the leather-wearers and is spat on by a woman with a goatee. This incident will stand for three or four others that are intended to be amusing but don’t amount to anything.

Then James hears that Omar is about to buy some weapons from Serbian arms dealers. Ben, having divined the purpose of the nuisance calls, comes up with a couple of clues that may help locate and fix a time for the gun purchase.

Now anybody who has been to the movies much knows how this is going to turn out. James is going to get into trouble trying to arrest the folks at the arms sale. Ben is going to come to the rescue, using his banter or his on-line gaming experiences to help him help the real detective. Right?

The movie does have a decent, if not altogether original, way of putting Ben in the middle of the transaction. And Fishburne shows up, suggesting a comic tone for the picture that it had needed since its opening.

But there are odd things late, too. The gun sale scene goes on for a surprisingly long time and even then isn’t the climax of the film. These facts are surprising. I’m not sure they are surprising in a good way.

And then there are a couple of late close-ups viewers won’t be able to explain. I’m guessing that Hart’s dialog got revised after the shooting and that director Story recorded the sound of the new lines but didn’t want to go to the trouble of re-filming the sequences. So he cut out the shot of Hart speaking and inserted formerly unneeded shots of Sumpter or Cube standing around listening.

To tell the truth, the whole movie feels a little haphazard and re-manufactured. Besides which, Hart was probably funnier in “Grudge Match,” which will soon be out as a DVD. If you really want to see the comedian in a film, you might do better to wait and rent that movie.

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