Kevin Hart is a funny man. I don’t think many outside of his most strident detractors would hesitate to concede that point. What might get called into question is whether or not his particular brand of funny warrants headlining entire films. Hart can be a bit much when given center stage, his shrill, hyperkinetic energy perhaps better suited for supporting roles. Put another way, when placing him into the context of an action-comedy, he might perhaps function best as second-banana comic relief. Think Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon series. That would be a good fit for him, accentuating rather than saturating.
Yet Hart is, of course, the main attraction in Ride Along 2 (the Mel Gibson, if you will), and he does tend to wear one down at length. The sequel to the big hit of two Januarys ago, the film reunites Hart with Ice Cube for another adventure, but really the same one all over again. Hart’s Ben Barber, once a cop wannabe latching onto his girlfriend’s gruff cop brother James (Cube) to gain experience, is now a cop himself, yet still latches onto James all the same. Ben wants to become a detective, even though he has only been a beat cop for just a short while, and figures that drafting off of whatever high-profile case James is working is his ticket to the big leagues. Ben is now a week away from marrying James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), and is attempting to hijack the wedding planning with his own Bridezilla designs. To get Ben out of her hair, Angela begs James to take her man along with him to Miami to follow up a lead.
So Ride Along 2 spares little time in establishing that it’s going to be the same thing all over again, with the particulars only slightly tweaked, to absolutely no consequence. Again it’s Ben acting with manic foolishness and broad sensitivity in the face of James being Ice Cube, with all the sternness and mean-mugging that entails. Worse, the film enlists Ken Jeong in its Pesci capacity, as if the film needed another performer amped up to perilous levels of obnoxious overzealousness. Also on deck is Olivia Munn as a brusque Miami cop (one who shows up to crime scenes wearing a sports bra without explication), who at least doesn’t contribute to the comedic overacting with her fembot blankness.
With two actors perpetually trying far too hard for strained laughs, it might seem unfair to single out Ice Cube as one of Ride Along 2’s chief problems, but he definitely isn’t helping. By now, Cube has comfortably settled into the terse toughness of his long-standing persona, but being the constant straight man to Hart grows as tiresome as his co-star’s frenzied antics. Cube has it in him to be hysterically funny if given the opportunity, as evidenced by his amazing plant-kicking work in 22 Jump Street, but he is far too eager to coast on that above-it-all air of unflappability. Ride Along 2 would have been better served by putting Cube into the game, letting him play the fool at times. By keeping him locked into scowl-mode ad infinitum, Cube is little more than a paddle for Hart to bounce off of like a ball on a string rather than half of a workable comedy duo.
Directed by professional journeyman Tim Story, who helmed the first film as well as the original and lamentable Fantastic Four duo from the mid-‘00s, Ride Along 2 is depressingly locked into formula. The mechanics of its buddy-cop plot were already stale by the end of the ‘80s and the film shows no desire to subvert or play around with those musty tropes. Its action sequences are similarly perfunctory. The only sign of life to be found is with Benjamin Bratt’s somewhat playful interpretation of an evil Mr. Big as a gloss on Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World,” but that only gets us so far. So rote is the film that one almost pines for the similarly uninspired yet marginally more enjoyable Rush Hour series, and pining for Rush Hour isn’t where you want to find yourself.
Kevin Hart does deserve better, but the blame can really only be laid at his own feet. He has reached a level of celebrity to where he could pick and choose which projects he signs onto, yet is content to make the same dismal dross over and over. His motormouthed clowning and willingness to be thrown across rooms have gotten him this far, but will never get him any farther if he doesn’t establish some measure of quality control. It’s sad to witness him conjuring up such furious energy in the service of inert one-liners and lame pratfalls. There are exactly two funny moments in the whole of Ride Along 2, one involving personalized ringtones and the other a bulletproof vest, and neither has anything to do with Hart’s talents. Maybe he should consider doing something worthy of those talents before Ride Along 3 inevitably reaches the discussion phase.
Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.