If aliens came to Earth and wanted to know what a "buddy cop comedy" was, you could take a little time to curate the finest and most varied entries in the subgenre or you could just have our visitor friends watch Ride Along. This is not because Ride Along is the best buddy comedy that cinema has to offer, but because it is such a by-the-numbers hodgepodge of all the signature tropes you would expect from this kind of movie that it would save everybody's time.
Though the filmmakers claim they were attempting a humorous version of Training Day, and there are comic setpieces clearly influenced by Eddie Murphy's turn in 48 Hrs., the movie that Ride Along most uncannily resembles is the largely forgotten but underrated film directed by John Badham in 1991, The Hard Way. The Hard Way starred Michael J. Fox as a ditzy Hollywood actor riding along with tough cop James Woods to research a role. The cop does his best to distract and get rid of the actor while he investigates and pursues a particularly nasty bad guy that has become his all-consuming obsession.
Ride Along swaps in Ice Cube (who also co-produced) for James Woods and makes him the overprotective older brother of Tika Sumpter (Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots TV series), while sticking Kevin Hart in the Michael J. Fox role as Sumpter's security guard boyfriend who wants to be a cop. Cube tries to get Hart to give up on the job and give up on his sister, by offering the wannabe a chance to ride with him and see what police work is "really like." Except that Cube's character has cooked up a series of overblown tough situations into which he sticks his would-be brother-in-law, such as when he asks Hart to get a group of mean bikers to move their motorcycles out of a handicapped parking spot. Meanwhile, Cube tries to nail down an elusive criminal known as Omar whose face hasn't even been seen in decades (I won't exactly spoil Omar's identity, but if you look at the opening credits and realize who hasn't shown up by the halfway point, then you pretty much know who he is). This set-up plays out, moment for moment, exactly as you would expect.
Will Hart's character turn out to be helpful in Cube's investigation and eventually gain his respect? That's a given, so rather than ponder that, let's ponder what I find a more interesting question: who of the four credited screenwriters is the big fan of The Hard Way? Is it Greg Coolidge, who co-wrote Sorority Boys? That was kind of a rip-off of '80s movies, right? Or is it the team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who also helped bring us R.I.P.D.? That was kind of just a redo of Men In Black, wasn't it? My hope is that it was Jason Mantzoukas, better known as an actor who hilariously steals scenes in The Dictator and The League, and who co-hosts a podcast about insane subpar movies called "How Did This Get Made?" Unfortunately, this movie is not insane enough to be featured on his own podcast.
Despite its predictable, second-hand feeling, Ride Along still kind of works. Director Tim Story (Barbershop, the Fantastic Four movies) does well with the action scenes and keeps the dialogue scenes zipping along. The main selling point of the film, though, is the chemistry created by Kevin Hart's manic energy and Ice Cube's stoic grouchiness. Though their performances add no new wrinkles to these type of stock characters, the stars pull off their roles in a way that is entertaining to watch. If you're in the mood for purely unchallenging popcorn fare, this could do the trick.
Ride Along comes in a combo pack with a BD, DVD, and a code for digital download that works with iTunes or UV.
Universal has a good record for turning out great-looking home versions of their new releases, and Ride Along is no different. The AVC-encoded 1080p 2.40:1 image is utterly free from defect. No noise, no banding. The colors are nicely saturated, the black levels are solid, and the skin tone reproduction is spot-on.
Universal has served up a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track that is theater quality. The action scenes are full of exciting directional effects and exploit the low end effectively. The music cues and score come through with excellent clarity and fullness. The quieter dialogue scenes have a realistic atmosphere, and the dialogue is perfectly understandable throughout. The disc also provides a Spanish DTS Digital 5.1 track, plus an English 2.0 DVS track for the blind. There are also English SDH, plus Spanish and French subtitles.
There are bunch of bonus features on here, many of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray. All the featurettes come with the same subtitle options as the film.
- Audio Commentary by director Tim Story - Story provides a talkative, entertaining track where he discusses the production process, points out what was added to the film in re-shoots, and occasionally delves into the development of the project, which he says had been in turnaround for nearly a decade before producer Will Packer thought about turning it into an Ice Cube-Kevin Hart vehicle. If you enjoyed the movie, you could find this interesting, although Story spends so much time praising his actors and crew over and over again that it gets a little bit wearying by the end.
- Alternate Ending (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 1:42) - No big change here, although this is less of a big comic send-off than they eventually settled on.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 8:23) - Mostly skippable, although there are a few funny moments from Hart. There is also an extremely late unresolved plot twist shown here that was wisely cut from the film.
- Alternate Take (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 1:38) - A raw take of Hart improv-ing in the car. It both shows off Hart's ability and illustrates the director's struggle to keep Hart's riffs within the parameters of a PG-13 movie (the R-rated words are bleeped here).
- Gag Reel (HD, 2:59) - Just what it sounds like. Pretty fun. The best moment involves a woman calling out to Ice Cube in the street, while he calls back, "I'm working!"
- It Was A Good Day: On The Set of Ride Along (HD, 11:52) - Pretty good EPK, with the standard mix of on-set footage and interviews. The actors come off as charming and funny, with Hart riffing on things like his fear of having his feet shown on film. I don't know anyone who would watch this first, but it is not recommended, since the featurette is full of spoilers.
- Kev and Cube's Wild Ride (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 5:16) - More EPK stuff, focusing just on the chemistry between Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.
- You Gonna Learn Today (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 4:39) - This one is focused almost entirely on Kevin Hart and his improvisation style, although there is a brief section about the other comedians in the cast, Bryan Callen and John Leguizamo, also flexing their improv muscles.
- Anatomy of the Big Blast (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 4:50) - An interesting piece about the prep and execution of a big explosion effect within the film.
- An Explosive Ride (HD, Blu-ray exclusive, 5:08) - This piece feeds off of the last one and looks into the action and stunts within the film more generally.
- Atlanta: The Character (HD, 3:19) - A nice piece about the choice to shoot the film in Atlanta, in a lot of practical outdoor locations. This also touches upon the cast getting mobbed by fans. At one point, a kid on an elevated walkway drops his mixtape down for Ice Cube to check out.
I know it's pretty unlikely to happen any time soon, but I want to see The Hard Way get released on Blu-ray. That would be good. As for Ride Along... mildly Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. Check out his random movie thoughts on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bottomofqueue