My love of Hip-Hop has been documented here before and although if hard pressed, I’d have to choose the East Coast (Biggie! Pun! Wu-Tang! Beastie Boys!), I still love me some of that West Coast business. N.W.A affiliate and true West Coast OG Ice Cube is a key figure in that scene and in the proliferation of the “Gangster Rap” sound that changed the Hip-Hop landscape.
It is strange then to see the man who made his name screaming “Fuck The Police” not only playing a cop but in a buddy cop picture too no less. What is even stranger than that is just how well it works and just how great he is. Granted his comedy chops revolve around him being the direct opposite of funny, stoney-faced humourless, but his persona is indelible, his presence irresistible.
He played near enough the same part in the riotous 21 Jump Street, but as that old stereotype the angry, always shouting police captain. His character, James Payton, is another walking cliche, a series of really; the stoic, heroic lone wolf cop, always defying the rules but always bringing home the results; the intimidating protective brother to a beautiful sister for whom in his eyes, no one is worthy. The least of which her boyfriend and prospective fiancée – Kevin Hart’s grunting, shrieking, leaping Ben, a constant thorn in Cube’s side.
Before he can attain Angela’s hand in marriage he must first be given blessing and before he can attain that, he has to prove to Cube’s James that he’s man enough. He must go on the titular Ride Along. From here, the film treads familiar beats. Ben is just not up to the job, his diminutive stature and high pitched voice makes him the butt of many a joke and James wants rid of him ASAP. There’s the moment that Ben realises he’s a joke and gets all upset, shortly followed by resilience and proving himself. Ice Cube melts and a partnership is formed. So far so standard.
It’s the meat between these obligatory story arc turning points that provides the film with its saving grace. To reduce that further would be to say that sans Cube and Hart and their clear chemistry, the film would be a dud. Cube plays so straight that his face is stuck on “frown” for the whole film, while Hart is left to bounce off him like a new-millennium Eddie Murphy (remember when he was decent?). Hart clearly has a bright future and Cube is a vet with no signs of disgracefully ageing, together they are a delight.
Elsewhere John Leguizamo is the bent cop who’s secretly working for Cube’s obsession Omar, a ghost like crimelord who no one has ever seen. He turns up in the shape of a truly uninspired Laurence Fishburne, a gangster lacking every shred of menace.
The action sequences are serviceable if not a little pedestrian and the story beats are as formulaic as you could possibly conceive. Films like the aforementioned 21 Jump Street and the superlative Pineapple Express have covered and perfected similar action/buddy/comedy territory before but the winning combo at the head of this comedy proves that the franchise-fad need not be the be-all-and-end-all of blockbuster filmmaking. Talk of a sequel is inevitable and tantalising, if these two can be put into a movie of a higher caliber together, the sky really is the limit.
– Oliver Drew