He must have been a professional laugher.
You know, the ones you can hear enthusiastically busting their guts at any little thing as part of a sitcom’s laugh track.
There just aren’t many other ways, other than a significant head injury, to explain how the guy in front of me could have been so overcome with uncontrollable spasms of mirth by what was happening in “Ride Along.”
The action-comedy that’s light on both elements finds Ben (Kevin Hart), a high-school security guard who’s just been accepted into Atlanta’s police academy, trying to impress James (Ice Cube), a celebrated detective and the overly protective brother of Ben’s girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter).
In James’ eyes, the video-game junkie is a “weenie” and “about a chromosome away from being a midget.”
But, then, James is the kind of hard-edged guy who, in the movie’s opening sequence, runs after a thug who just shot up a shopping mall before jacking a car from the valet. When James demands a car so he can give chase and a Prius rolls up, he yells at the valet to “get this (excrement) outta here!” He then waits for someone else to arrive in a tricked-out, supercharged pickup truck. Because, you know, forget the whole public safety issue. The first rule of being a good cop is having a respectable ride.
Because Ben truly loves her — even though he’s shown being far more interested in his favorite video game than the gorgeous, pantsless Angela who’s trying to get his attention — he wants James’ respect and his blessing to become his brother-in-law.
James, though, is crafty. As he tells his fellow detectives (John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen), “I’m the brains, you the brawns.” So James invites Ben to spend the day on a ride along, knowing that will put the fear of the streets into Ben and he’ll be rid of the little twerp once and for all.
To stack the odds against him, James asks the dispatcher to send them all the 126s, code for the annoying calls no one wants. This leads to Ben being menaced by a loitering biker gang, bullied and disrespected by an 8-year-old on the playground and wrestling in a supermarket with a drunken honey-covered guy who stripped down to his underpants.
Ben eventually gets wind of what’s going on, so when one of those calls to a strip club turns into a hostage situation, he assumes it’s another put-on and acts invincible in the face of real danger. It’s a bit that goes back to at least the days of “I Love Lucy.”
But, then, nothing in “Ride Along” feels particularly fresh.
Ben quotes lines from 2001’s “Training Day.” James refers to Ben as “Sir Scream-A-Lot.” And the action scenes during which things explode with little provocation would have felt tired in 1984.
There’s also a muddled plotline involving a phantom, never-shown-his-face crime lord (Laurence Fishburne) that feels cobbled together from a dozen direct-to-video dramas.
And for that it took four — FOUR! — screenwriters: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.
“Ride Along” director Tim Story oversaw Hart in “Think Like a Man” and Cube in “Barbershop,” but neither actor is used to the best of his abilities here.
The magnetic, fast-talking Hart seems better-suited to a “Beverly Hills Cop” reboot than playing a frightened screw-up. Game for anything, though, he’s thrown around like a human Looney Tunes character. The only thing missing from some of the scenes is a Kevin Hart-shaped hole in the wall.
Next to Hart’s manic energy, Cube appears to be moving in slow-motion. Wearing that permanent beer-commercial scowl, whatever he’s showcasing is the opposite of charisma. He barks out orders like a gruff drill sergeant: Do this, sit here, go there. Many of his arguments seem to exist just for the sake of having arguments.
And much of the dialogue sounds like it was made up on the spot — and not in that fun, anything-goes, “Anchorman” way.
At one point, Cube even looks into the camera and, quoting his 1993 anthem, declares “Today was a good day.”
It may have been.
But it sure made for a lackluster hour and 40 minutes.
Christopher Lawrence reviews movies for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com