It feels good to laugh. After bingeing on a heavy meal of year-end movie releases — those films competing for a gold trophy come March — it’s easy to forget how pleasant a moderately inane broad comedy can be.
The Oscar antidote goes by the name of “Ride Along,” a buddy-cop comedy that isn’t at all original but does have one big thing going for it. Or, more accurately, a little thing: comedian Kevin Hart. He plays Ben, a motor-mouthed gamer and high school security guard who wants to marry his girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter), but needs to get approval from her prickly brother, James (Ice Cube). The two men got off on the wrong foot, but James, a police officer, tells Ben there’s one way he can prove himself: James proposes that Ben tag along during a day on the job. Given that Ben is an aspiring cop, he jumps at the chance.
Predictably, the day doesn’t unfold as heroically as Ben hopes. He can’t intimidate a small child, much less a loitering biker gang, and when he tries to handcuff an irate, nearly naked man covered in honey, well, you can just imagine. Of course the big case James has been working, which involves Serbians and an elusive criminal mastermind named Omar, comes to a head on the one day James is babysitting his potential brother-in-law.
The outcome is obvious, but Hart distracts from the familiar territory with consistent laughs. As a stand-up comedian, he’s known for his spot-on delivery, but the diminutive jokester also proves himself a master of physical comedy, whether he’s gliding awkwardly across the roof of a car, imitating Rihanna’s dance moves or reacting to a false-alarm home invasion by falling into a bookcase and knocking himself out cold.
Hart is clearly working overtime; there’s nothing effortless about his histrionic delivery, but it works. Ice Cube does less heavy lifting as the straight man (though who knows what kind of existential crisis he may be grappling with given the unprintable things he used to rap about police back in the day), but he conveys the checklist of important traits for the seasoned curmudgeon: exasperation, arrogance and, buried deep, a soft spot.
Speaking of hitting the high points, the action in “Ride Along” looks slick with a car chase that opens the movie and an impressive show of explosives.
None of it will be enough to make “Ride Along” memorable. You might think of the movie as a long car trip you’ve taken many times before. The same old roadside attractions may not be exciting, but when you’ve got great company, who cares?
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains action, violence, sexually explicit discussions and language.