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"Ride Along"  2stars

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.

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.

"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.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language.

Extras include commentary, gag reel, location tour of Atlanta and a backstage visit. Blu-ray adds alternate ending, deleted scenes and featurettes.

-- Post-Gazette

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"  2.5stars

Actor-director Ben Stiller comes along with the goal of turning James Thurber's very short story, a whimsical miniature, into a comic epic -- starring himself.

Mr. Stiller's Walter is a photo editor at the late great Life magazine, in its sad process of being folded into an online digital archive. Zoned-out Walter is in charge of all historic photos but has managed to lose the crucial image planned for the cover of the mag's last glorious issue.

A dazzling title sequence heralds similar CGI values to come. Walter's whole obsolete department, including Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the female object of his eye, are being "phased out of Time & Life" in more ways than one. But she, and the rage of his new boss (Adam Scott), will fire up his fantasies for love and vindication.

We get a nice turn from the immortal Shirley MacLaine as Walter's soulful mom and from Patton Oswalt as Walter's contact at eHarmony, in a running series of customer-support calls to that online dating service.

But trying to combine fantasy, romance, comedy, escapist adventure and inspirational self-discovery results in a mixed bag of ersatz redemption -- with soaring, sentimental songs to drive home every emotion.

Any similarity between this movie and Thurber's story is not just coincidental but accidental.

Rated PG for some crude language and action violence.

Extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes and a gallery of reference photography. Blu-ray adds deleted scenes, extended and alternate scenes and additional featurettes.

-- Post-Gazette

"Philomena"  3.5stars

Judi Dench plays the title character, a woman who gave birth to a son out of wedlock in 1952 at a Catholic convent in Ireland. While she toiled seven days a week in the laundry there to repay the nuns for taking her in, she spent an hour a day with her precious boy -- until he unexpectedly was bundled into a car with strangers who adopted him in 1955.

After decades wondering what happened to her Anthony, she joins forces with a cynical journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), in an effort to locate him. Philomena has visions that he is homeless and unloved; she just wants to know he's OK.

Their search doesn't go as they imagined, and it tests Philomena's faith, fortitude and ability to forgive.

Ms. Dench replaces the steely resolve of "M" from James Bond with a mother's enduring love and the ability to natter on with anyone in this true story. It doesn't end as we expect, and that is also part of its power.

PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references.

Extras include commentary, a nine-minute "A Conversation With Judi Dench," a featurette on "The Real Philomena Lee" and a Q&A with Mr. Coogan.

-- Post-Gazette

ALSO THIS WEEK: 

• "Black Nativity": Above-standard holiday film because of the strong writing, acting and music and direction from Kasi Lemmons.

• "Nut Job": Winter's coming and the woodland creatures in an idyllic park are dangerously low on food. A new supply is needed, especially when squirrel loner Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) puts an even bigger damper on the winter menus.

• "The Invisible Woman" Charles Dickens was living a life of great expectations as the perfect father who was also sharing his love with a young mistress in this film directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes.

• "Better Living Through Chemistry": Pharmacist starts a drug-and-alcohol-fueled affair.

• "Midsomer Murders: Village Case Files": The English village mystery gets a contemporary spin in this TV series.

• "Boys of Abu Ghraib": American soldier forms bond with a prisoner he's guarding.

• "Barney: Happy Birthday Barney!": Kids throw Barney a birthday party.

• "The Practice: The Final Season": Legal drama that paved the way for "Boston Legal."

• "Camp Dread": Director wants to resurrect summer camp horror genre.

• "Making of a Lady": Educated but penniless Emily Fox Seton (Lydia Wilson) struggles with love.

• "Thomas & Friends: Railway Mischief": There's trouble on the tracks.

• "Saint Seiya: Sanctuary": Follows five mystical warriors called the "Saints."

• "Ripper Street: Season Two": The job of protecting London's Whitechapel district has never been harder for Detective Inspector Edmund Reid.

• "Flowers in the Attic": Mother hides four siblings in the attic.

• "The Gabby Douglas Story": Recounts how the gymnast overcame obstacles to win Olympic gold.

-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers

 


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