‘Ride Along’: Flat tires all around

January 15, 2014

ridealong

It’s easy to understand what they’re going for in the odd-couple action-comedy “Ride Along.” It’s the classic comedy-team set-up of the tough, cynical straight man and the big-hearted stooge.

Whether it was Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby, Martin & Lewis – or such modern attempts as Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, or Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan – the dynamic never varies between the cool guy and the eager wannabe who never will, but who’ll win our hearts with his misguided, comically unsuccessful efforts.

One other thing separates the aforementioned comedy teamings with that of Ice Cube and comedian Kevin Hart in the tepid “Ride Along”: Those earlier performers knew how to be funny. Even when the material wasn’t strong, the team itself had comic resources to draw on.

But Tim Story’s “Ride Along,” written by a committee (that includes the writers responsible for, among other things “RIPD” and “Employee of the Month”), suffers from comedy malnutrition. There is a lot of effort expended but even the cheap laughs cost a lot here – and they’re just never that funny.

Cube plays James, a hard-charging undercover cop trying to track down a mysterious gun-runner named Omar through some Serbian connections. But he’s up against a boss (Bruce McGill) who is ready to take him off an expensive and unproductive case.

Hart is Ben, a school security guard who dreams of being a cop. In fact, he has applied to the police academy – to prove himself worthy of his girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter) – and to her older brother, James. James, however, thinks Ben is a clown (which, of course, he is), whose closest brush with the mean streets are those first-person-shooter videogames he plays in teams online.

To discourage Ben from being part of his life, James makes an offer: Ben can ride along with James for a shift to prove himself worthy of Angela. Ben, naturally, jumps at the chance; James, meanwhile, instructs the dispatcher to send him all the craziest calls.

These supposedly will frighten the inexperienced and obviously nervous Ben. Instead he flings himself into action – and his meager and ineffective performances are meant to generate laughs. Naturally, they also have what is meant to be an unexpected impact on the plot, accidentally helping to solve the case.

But neither the writers nor Hart apparently brought much to this particular party. Hart’s improvisations make Adam Sandler look funny by comparison – and Adam Sandler is never funny. I’ve seen Hart’s standup and he’s an energetic and witty guy. I’ve seen him be good in other roles; his motor-mouth and jumping-jack physicality serve him well when the material is good.

Here, however, he rambles and sputters, searching helplessly for something – anything – that might seem funny. The combination of Hart’s flailing and Cube’s slow-burn scowl are supposed to be the funny part. That, unfortunately, is an inaccurate assumption.

“Ride Along” rarely gets rolling. Watch it spawn a sequel.

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