Here’s the thing. I’m not mad at Ride Along. I’m not even frustrated with Tim Story’s buddy cop comedy. I’m not miffed, put off, or even slightly perturbed with it. I’m just kind of numb. Barely laughing in a comedy will do that to a person.
I’m writing this review moments after watching the thing because I’m worried I’ll start forgetting portions of it. This vehicle for Ice Cube and Kevin Hart is slowly dissipating from my head and into thin air.
Ride Along is harmless, but it also doesn’t meet its comedic mission statement.
Story’s film came close to making me heartily chuckle. I mildly snickered before the jokes were needlessly stretched by Hart’s incessant motor mouth and Cube’s raised brow.
Hart didn’t amaze me with his stand-up comedy in last year’s Let Me Explain (which Story co-directed), but I think he’s a performer who works better with another person on screen. He appears to be more self-assured with his deliveries when paired with someone to bounce zingers on and off of – nothing wrong with that at all. He just needs stronger material.
My light giggles happened when Hart’s do-gooder character, James, was thrown into a situation where he’s left to flounder. Like Hart has shown in his stage routine though, he doesn’t know when to stick his landing and wrap up the tomfoolery. Story, who’s supposed to know this comedic timing even more, lets Hart ramble until the script calls for an interruption.
Cube usually knows how to play a good straight man, and he continues to prove this in Ride Along. In the film, he plays a protective older brother to James’ girlfriend and is willing to test James to see if he’s “man” enough to be welcomed to the family. Cube, who has shown recently that he loves playing these amusing intimidators, is able to hold his own next to Hart’s frantic personality, and he’s able to competently keep the scene on target despite Hart swinging on tangents.
What cripples Ride Along is its formulaic script and Tim Story’s uncaring attitude. Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi (that’s right, four writers!) provide the skimpy set-ups and then rely on their leads to jumpstart the comedy that’s supposed to ensue. This system may please those who are attending Ride Along to see Hart “have at it”, but the situations don’t provide a heck of a lot of groundwork for these charismatic actors to spring off of.
Cube, who is also attached as one of the film’s producers, looks as if he’s always waiting for more in a scene. As a producer, you would think he’d take this opportunity to bring the writers and Story aside to figure out ways to punch up the material.
Story doesn’t exactly have a great directorial track record when it comes to action flicks (Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Taxi). With Ride Along, Story doesn’t add any originality to shoot-outs or car chases, and he doesn’t elevate the quality above any miscellaneous early-2000’s action/comedy starring Martin Lawrence.
There’s not a whole lot going for Ride Along in the realm of booming action or side-splitting comedy. All it has are two leading men trying to do everything they can to make this fluff into something noteworthy. But, when the lifeless odds are stacked as conventionally as they are against Hart and Cube, I’m surprised the actors didn’t surrender altogether.
If you’re not a stranger to movies featuring a favoured comic performing stand-up, the beginning of Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain should be another walk in the park from stage left to stage right.
Before we get to Hart’s routine which sold out New York City’s Madison Square Garden (twice!), audiences are given a Cloverfield-esque intro showing Hart having to defend himself at an after party. After countless patrons questioning him and his on-stage confessions, Hart proclaims his return to the stage in order to – wait for it – explain himself.
This scripted lead-in is supposed to bring the laughs by putting Hart in awkward confrontations, but these scenes establish Kevin Hart as an obnoxious narcissist – trumping any opportunity for funniness.
Now, let me explain. It’s expected for a stand-up comedy film to shed a lot of light onto its main star. It’s a whole other kettle of fish, however, when the film is used for the star to gloat and remind everyone of how important he is.
For an annoying fifteen minutes, Hart brings himself up in conversation many times – either according to the script or during more documentary-type scenes. Soon after, Hart breaks the forth wall and offers a montage of how he traveled far and wide selling out multiple arenas and stages. It’s an impressive feat for a comic to fill spaces as much as he does. It’d be more impressive if it hadn’t felt like Hart was rubbing it in.
Starting off in Canada, Kevin Hart and his crew travel by bus to multiple venues. The tour life is intercut with post-show audiences raving about Hart’s comedy. The film certainly isn’t light on footage of women batting their lashes affirming their love for Kevin Hart.
The egocentric set-up does not start Let Me Explain on a good foot. It’s especially discouraging to a first timer of Hart’s stand-up as I was.
I have to be honest. I had only caught snippets of Hart’s comedy in passing such as his hosting stint on Saturday Night Live. Previous to SNL, my knowledge of Hart hadn’t exceeded his role in Soul Plane and his bit part in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
As all good docs or stand-up movies should do, I was interested in Kevin Hart’s stylings and I wanted Let Me Explain to show me what the hubbub was all about. Actually, the fact that I used “hubbub” in a sentence tells me that I probably don’t belong amongst Hart’s followers.
After his latest comedic offering, I’m not sold just yet. Out of all his material, I only found a third of it to be funny – and, I’m being very generous. A lot of Hart’s comedy consists of shouting and repetitiveness, leading to the comic senselessly hammering the punchline into the ground after its drawn out delivery.
Leslie Small and Tim Story’s film doesn’t reinvent the concert film wheel by any means. Each joke Hart screams, the audience goes wild. Every once in a while, there are a couple of camera perspectives that catch us off guard. But, Small and Story want to stick to a formulaic shooting and cutting routine; just as Hart does with his jokes.
The moments that are the most memorable though are the instances where Kevin Hart shows us that he’s human after all. The funniest moment is unexpected for the comedian as he accidentally breaks his persona to uncontrollably laugh at a ridiculous set built around dirty homeless hands giving people “bum bumps”. The second most memorable moment happens towards the end where Hart gratefully thanks his audience for supporting him and helping him sell out a 30,000 seat theatre (again, twice!). Both genuine moments are neither smug or schmaltzy.
It’s these glimpses that make us shake off those bad vibes we had earlier in the film. Hart is indeed a sincere and generous guy who has a blast doing what he does. Some uncontrived scenes during the credits show Hart and his buddies as a group of fun-loving friends you’d want to have a beer with.
I didn’t laugh as much as I wanted to during Hart’s comedy and Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain as a whole is a definite dud, but at least the comic partially redeems himself by the end and has movie goers happy with him as a person in a way that feels trustworthy.