Kevin Hart tries his hardest to wring some laughs out of "Ride Along," which pairs him with the no-nonsense Ice Cube in an action comedy.
The shoe salesman turned successful stand-up comedian and now actor, stars as Ben Barber, an Atlanta high school security guard and video game fanatic who dreams of entering the police academy and marrying his girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter).
First, though, Ben must demonstrate to Angela's brother, James (Ice Cube), that he deserves a shot at both. James is overly protective, humorless and a dogged police detective obsessed with a case he's working with a couple of fellow officers,
Starring: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language.
James figures the way to shut down Ben -- and shut him up -- is to invite him on an official police ride-along and scare the ambition out of him. It looks as though the veteran cop has succeeded, thanks to some real-world encounters and a trip to the firing range that underscores the difference between a game controller and an actual weapon.
"I thought it'd be different. I thought I'd be better," an atypically discouraged Ben acknowledges. But he gets a second wind and second chance, which proves providential for James and his thorniest case.
Before "Ride Along" is over, the comedy takes a back seat to the action, which turns on the PG-13 rated violence like a police siren.
Nine years ago, while promoting the family comedy "Are We There Yet?" Ice Cube said he wasn't about to be Eddie Murphy -- then star of "Dr. Dolittle" and "Daddy Day Care" -- any time soon. For him, it was all about the quality of the project, insisting, "You gotta be part of good projects when they become available."
"Ride Along," directed by Tim Story and credited to four screenwriters, blunders by making Ice Cube's character so one note, which forces Mr. Hart to shoulder almost all of the comedy. In Mr. Story's "Think Like a Man," Mr. Hart seemed as if he had a license to ad-lib, and he was a bright spot in an impressive ensemble.
This movie wants to have it both ways, by placing key characters in harm's way and allowing them to banter far longer than any real people would and allowing them to escape without a scratch or burn or with treatable (or, with enough drugs, tolerable) injuries.
In the interest of accuracy, an overflowing preview audience laughed in all the right places, helping to fuel months-long talk about a sequel. Maybe the second time will be the comedic charm.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.