Amiable ‘Ride Along’ fulfills expectations

01/16/2014 12:00 AM

01/15/2014 3:08 PM

The first new movie release of any calendar year is traditionally awful. So I worried about “Ride Along,” until “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” sneaked past it last week in the race to the bottom.

“Ride Along” turns out to be a pleasant, snappy, by-the-numbers buddy comedy about James, a rough undercover cop (Ice Cube), and Ben (Kevin Hart), who wants to marry James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) but can’t win the cop’s blessing.

Ben works as a high school security guard and (in the one scene we see) shows resourcefulness and empathy. He has been accepted into the police academy. So when James offers to let him ride along on cases for a day, obviously hoping to discourage Ben’s romantic and professional ambitions, Ben accepts.

The four screenwriters have delivered a “you know” scenario. You know James will rig false “crises” that make Ben look bad on the streets of Atlanta. You know Ben will find out, then get into a genuinely perilous situation that he thinks is another setup.

You know James will be put in danger he can’t escape without Ben’s help. You know the bad guys will grab Angela, offering to trade her safety for a bag of loot. In fact, you can probably guess who those bad guys turn out to be; when the “twist” was revealed, I didn’t hear one surprised intake of breath at the preview screening.

But you wouldn’t go to “Ride Along” and expect the plot complexities of “The Usual Suspects.” You’d go for motormouth monologues from Hart, who appears to be this decade’s Chris Tucker, for the patented Ice Cube scowl-that’s-one-step-from-a-smile, and maybe for competently shot action sequences (which are not director Tim Story’s strongest point).

The movie’s longest scene, the one meant to establish Hart as a star, is an extended riff on Eddie Murphy’s “don’t mess with me” bravura in “Beverly Hills Cop” 30 years ago. Hart’s funny, but he doesn’t take over the screen the way Murphy did. (Whatever happened to Murphy? The answer: Last year’s “Beverly Hills Cop” TV movie, followed by the announcement of “Beverly Hills Cop 4.”)

Laurence Fishburne, whose magisterial presence is seldom seen in significant film roles any more, makes a reduced but crucial contribution. When he shows up, we see at once the difference between a shape-shifting performer and a star who simply projects a strong personality. “Ride Along 2” has already been announced, and I hope it makes good use of him.

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