For the past two years, high school security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) has been trying to show decorated detective James (Ice Cube) that he's more than just a video game junkie who's unworthy of James' sister. When Ben finally gets accepted into the police academy, James invites him on a ride-along designed to scare the hell out of him and ultimately demonstrate if Ben has what it takes to take care of his sister. But when the wild night leads them to the most notorious criminal in the city, James will find that his new partner's rapid-fire mouth is just as dangerous as the bullets speeding at it. Also starring John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne, 'Ride Along' is an action-packed comedy with big thrills and even bigger laughs.
I skipped 'Ride Along' in the theaters, and wasn't particularly looking forward to reviewing it on Blu-ray. While the movie has been one of 2014's surprise hits at the box office (making over $130 million off budget of about $25 million), it was also pretty much universally panned by critics. Now, I'm not going to tell you that all those critics were off-base and that 'Ride Along' is fantastic fun, but I will say that it's not nearly as bad as I thought. In fact, it proved to be quite watchable—if all too predictable—fare.
One of the most likable things about the movie is that it seems to be taking a page from all those fun 'buddy cop movies' of the 1980s and 1990s. Although the producers in the bonus materials on this release will tell you they were trying to make a comedic version of Training Day, there's actually a lot more of a Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour feel to the proceedings. Which is not to say that 'Ride Along' is anywhere near as good as those films, but the movie does have that 'throwback' vibe to action pictures of an earlier generation. Fans of action-comedies from the 80s are going to appreciate the effort here quite a bit.
The movie stars Kevin Hart as Ben Barber, a security guard at an Atlanta high school who wants nothing more than to become a real cop. He's teamed up with James Payton (Ice Cube) who is already a cop—with the connection between the two men being that Ben is dating James' younger sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter). So James already has it out for Ben because he thinks Ben is not good enough for his sister, but he also thinks Ben isn't cut out to be a cop—as all he does in his spare time is sit at home playing video games, and has no real on-the-street experience.
When Ben is finally accepted into the police academy, James decides that the only way he's going to get Ben to drop out is to take him on a 'Ride Along' (hence, the title of the movie) and show him all the dangers a cop faces every day on the job. Of course, what Ben doesn't know is that James has stacked the deck against him, getting his department (and a few of his friends) to assign him every crazy situation that comes up on that day's beat.
Sadly, this is one of those buddy films that doesn't just want to be a comedy…it wants to be an action movie as well, so there's a more 'serious' storyline thrown into the mix where James is trying to hunt down and stop a mysterious arms dealer named 'Omar' whose identity remains a mystery during much of the proceedings. Omar actually turns out to be played by a notable actor whose name is in the opening credits—one of the bigger mistakes the movie makes, as it would have been much more fun if the actor in question just appeared in the movie as a surprise, as it's pretty easy to guess what character he portrays once everyone else in the movie is introduced.
Ice Cube basically has to play the straight man here, with the success or failure of 'Ride Along' firmly in Kevin Hart's hands. The result is a bit of a mixed bag, with some scenes working quite well, some scenes falling flat, while others are a little too cartoonish and over-the-top. Hart wants to be this generation's answer to Eddie Murphy, but he's much more comparable to Chris Tucker—where a little bit of him is fun, but too much can border on annoyance. You can tell much of his dialogue here is ad-libbed, and many sequences go on a little too long, where some editing might have made the moments funnier, and the movie better paced.
Still, while 'Ride Along' is far from perfect, it's by no means a lazy effort by anyone involved. The movie is competently made by Director Tim Story and proves to be a nice 'breakout' starring role for Kevin Hart, who has too often just been a sidekick or played the best friend role in his other movies up until now. The movie is not everything it could be, but it's still a lot better than you've heard.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Ride Along' makes its way onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are housed in a standard Elite keepcase, with the Blu-ray on the inside right, and the DVD on the inside left. The only insert is a code for an UltraViolet or iTunes digital copy of the movie. The case has a slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slick that slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 47 Ronin, Endless Love, an anti-smoking ad, A Haunted House, The Nut Job, 'The BoxTrolls', and Lone Survivor. The main menu consists of a still of Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, with menu selections along the left side of the screen, as is typical for most Universal Blu-rays.
'Ride Along' was shot digitally on Red Epic cameras, and the transfer here is what one would expect from a movie shot in HD—nice crisp images with great black levels and plenty of detail throughout. There are a lot of scenes in the movie that take place either at night or in darkened rooms or warehouses, and shadow delineation is noticeably strong during those sequences, with no evidence of crush. In daylight scenes, colors really pop and fine details can be seen. Skin tones are nicely balanced and contrast remains consistent.
In terms of any defects or compression issues, there are none to be noted. No banding, artifacting, aliasing or other problems. In short, this is a reference quality transfer that videophiles are going to enjoy watching quite a bit. The movie looks great on Blu-ray.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is most noticeable when the various songs in the movie's soundtrack kick in. Those moments provide a lot of 'oomph' and low-end frequency activity, causing one's sound system to really come to life. However, aside from a few shootouts and action sequences, there's not a whole lot of immersiveness or directionality to the track—due primarily to the fact that much of the movie consists of the two main characters bickering with one another while driving from crime scene to crime scene.
In terms of balance, things are very good, with the exception that those various soundtrack numbers are noticeably louder than the spoken word. However, since the songs in the movie rarely occur during dialogue moments, there's are no issues with having trouble hearing the dialogue over the music. Even with the slightly louder musical moments, dynamic range here is good, and there are no problems with hissing, popping, or dropouts.
In addition to the lossless English 5.1 track, the disc also includes a Spanish 5.1 DTS track as well as a Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French.
There's little doubt that 'Ride Along' is both formulaic and predictable. However, there's some very nice chemistry between the two leads and enough genuine laughs to make this one worthwhile. Don't go into it expecting too much, and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Recommended.