The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Ride Along

Ride Along represents an important moment in modern screen comedy. No, the movie itself isn't all that great. However, it marks the official arrival of Kevin Hart as a leading man. The comedian has been doing solid work in supporting roles and in ensemble films for over a decade, and his two stand-up concert documentaries did strong box office business. Ride Along is the first time he's been called upon to carry a major movie, though, and he's more than up to the challenge. Let's hope that it affords him the opportunity to continue on this track, but with better material, in the future.

Hart plays Ben Barber, a security guard at an Atlanta high school with two dreams: to enter the police academy, and to marry his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). To do the latter, he first has to get the blessing of Angela's no-nonsense cop brother, James (Ice Cube). And James hates Ben. To make him prove that he's worthy of Angela, James insists that Ben accompany him for a day on the job. At first, they go on a series of nuisance calls, which Ben is utterly incapable of handling. Then things get more serious, as James gets a lead in his ongoing investigation of a mysterious crime lord. Ben is suddenly thrust into a very dangerous situation, where finding his mettle will be the only way to survive.

The plot of Ride Along is utterly formulaic and predictable. The whole “cop and a civilian” thing has been done before, and it's almost always a cheap comedy gimmick. (For reference, consider that 1993's Burt Reynolds vehicle Cop and a Half utilized a very similar premise, and we all know how that turned out.) Things unfold in exactly the manner you know they will from the start: Ben will be comically inept, only to rise to the occasion when the chips are down, while James will soften his stance. Ride Along even goes so far as to employ a variation of the oldest cliché in the cop-comedy handbook: the one involving the “surprise” bad guy(s). Also, as expected from a male-centric story, the character of Angela is relegated to the background, until such time as she's required to become a victim. No point in making her smart, strong, or interesting, right?

Those issues aside, Ride Along borderline works because of Kevin Hart. He's hilarious here. Over the course of the movie, Hart is called upon to do physical humor, verbal humor, and quirky character-based humor. He does all of it with flair and energy, at times turning jokes or gags that could have been stupid into something surprisingly funny. A sequence in which Ben is asked to confront a group of surly bikers is a great example. Hart begins the scene with comic swagger, as Ben pumps himself up in order to do something he's afraid of. When that doesn't work, the actor transitions into comic desperation, having Ben frantically – and hysterically - quote Denzel Washington in Training Day to sound menacing. Things go from bad to worse, ending with a piece of physical comedy that Hart makes funnier than it must have read on paper. Laughs also come from his pairing with Ice Cube, who very effectively plays exasperated straight-man. For a movie that doesn't try very hard in the plot department, I found myself laughing quite a bit, thanks to the two leads.

The mark of a great comedy star is the ability to elevate mediocre material, and make good material soar. With Ride Along, Kevin Hart most definitely elevates mediocre material. The film benefits from his efforts. It's no great shakes, but it's also amiable and good for a few laughs. Someday, the right script will land in Hart's lap, and he'll make it soar. It will be something that lets him crank the comedy up to eleven. It will be his Beverly Hills Cop, his 40 Year-Old Virgin, his Anchorman. Based on what he does with Ride Along, I'm excited for that day to come.

( 1/2 out of four)

Ride Along is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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