Joining the ranks of odd-couple police comedies, "Ride Along" delivers laughs over action, with loudmouthed funnyman Kevin Hart driving the hilarity.
Stepping into the role of rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube's sidekick in this buddy-cop farce, Hart had a lot to live up to. Cube (real name O'Shea Jackson) and Chris Tucker were classic quipsters in the 1995 pot-comedy "Friday" that started it all, and when then-newcomer Mike Epps dropped in on the sequel, his chemistry with Cube led to a third film.
The formula is always the same: Cube, who is level-headed for the most part, gets into trouble with his ridiculous sidekick. "Ride Along" is no different, and that's OK. It's a blueprint we've come to rely on for nearly 20 years.
With roots in stand-up, Hart continues to make a successful transition from stage to screen, with three films released in the past year and five scheduled through 2015.
In "Ride Along," Hart's rapid banter comes off naturally, as if he's always improvising. Cube's no-nonsense approach, punctuated by his steady straight-face, offers an ideal contrast.
Ben (Hart), who has just been accepted into the Atlanta police academy, is ready to ask his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter) to marry him. But first, he's determined to get the approval of her older brother, James (Cube), an Atlanta police officer. But at 5 feet, 4 inches tall, Ben is far from James' biggest fan. He'd pictured his sister with a brawny athlete, "not the mascot," he says. In order to prove he's worthy of asking for Angela's hand, Ben must accompany James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta.
Unfortunately, Ben doesn't do a great job of being tough or discrete. He likens police work to his "Call of Duty" video gaming and calls Angela "bouncy butt" after telling her, "You make me think of rainbows because we both love colors."
It's one of many absurdly funny lines Hart delivers while trying to prove himself to James. And their exchange, reminiscent of smooth-talking Will Smith and the foolish Martin Lawrence in "Bad Boys," is consistently amusing.
When James requests a day of "Code 126" cases, cop lingo for an annoying situation, Ben is put to the test as he attempts to get a crew of loitering bikers away from a storefront and put a drunken grocery store customer in custody.
Though primarily a flunky in any physical task - he can't even shoot a shotgun without its recoil hurling him backward - Ben uncovers a number of clues throughout the day, helping James with his hunt for the ruthless and allusive Atlanta kingpin Omar.
Despite failing all of James' tests, Ben refuses to bow down and accuses James of having trust issues. "That's why you don't have a partner," he says, foreshadowing a sequel.
After fellow officers (played by John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen) set up James during a supposed bust, Ben comes to his rescue, which wins him big points with James.
This predictable "Training Day"-goes-slapstick romp, directed by Tim Story ("Think Like a Man"), is far from innovative and reaches an "oh, lord" level when Cube says a few of his signature lyrics, including "Today was a good day" from his 1992 album "The Predator." But since the whole film is full of camp - down to James' black muscle car and the police captain who won't get off his back - moments like these don't feel out of place and Cube and Hart are a welcomed new pair.
"Ride Along," a Universal release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language." Running time: 100 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.