Kevin Hart is on fire. After a theatrical release of his stand-up special Let Me Explain and a cameo in This Is the End, he closed out the year as one of the few good parts about Grudge Match. He starts off this year strong in Ride Along, the first of four scheduled features on his plate for 2014. And, as an added bonus, it’s also the year’s first legitimately good release.
What we’ve got here is a simple buddy-cop setup with hard-nosed, no-nonsense detective James (Ice Cube) paired off with flamboyant wannabe Ben (Hart). In this particular case, Ben has gotten into Atlanta’s police academy; he wants to win James’ approval not only to get a leg up in his career, but also to go ahead and marry his girlfriend, James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter). James wants nothing to do with this little loudmouthed guy, as he and his team (John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen) are hot on the trail of an elusive crime boss. He figures that dragging Ben along on a snipe hunt will blow him off, but their paths keep crossing back over with the real criminals.
The movie’s formula provides for a decent balance between action and comedy; it also sets up Cube and Hart as a classic comedy duo, with Cube playing the straight man to Hart’s cut-up. They mesh every bit as well as Cube did with Chris Tucker in Friday, but this is Hart’s movie. Ben isn’t here to provide comic relief to lighten James’ heavy story; he’s the one who needs to come into his own. And the situations James pushes him into provide fertile ground for Hart’s fast-talking schtick that’s always one step from tripping over itself.
It’s this style that really distinguishes Hart from other comics in similar roles. This is not the glib, smooth confidence of Eddie Murphy’s Bugs Bunny wiseguy. It’s not even the hype-man braggadocio that Tucker displayed, which always seemed surprised when the tables turned. No, Ben is genuinely nervous and afraid, constantly trying to bluff his way through when he knows he’s out of his depth. Hart’s gift is that he can back up his wisecracking with a real vulnerability. We know Ben is every bit as annoying as James thinks he is, and yet, like Angela, we can’t help but love him and root for the little guy.
Worth It: yes.