MOVIE REVIEWS

‘Ride Along’: Go for the laughs, not the action | 2 stars

Updated: 2014-01-16T01:59:32Z

By JON NICCUM

Special to The Star

You must respect the sheer magnitude of energy Kevin Hart brings to a role.

Not since the glory days of Jim Carrey has a comedian worked this hard, his efforts transforming a lazy buddy-cop flick into a passable time-waster. You may not remember much about “Ride Along” in a few days. But you won’t forget the confident, boisterous Hart. He won’t let you.

The 5-foot-2 performer plays Ben, a high school security guard who fancies himself the next Shaft. He spends his free time playing shoot ’em up video games under the screen name Black Hammer, hoping to one day join the police force.

Plus, he has an in … sort of. His girlfriend, Angela (the out-of-his-league Tika Sumpter), has a brother who’s an Atlanta cop. But James (Ice Cube) is not keen on Ben, ever since an accident at a family barbecue.

Ben ruefully tells him, “I don’t want to be known as the guy who set you on fire.”

When Ben gets accepted to the police academy, he feels vindicated. He believes it’s time to finally ask Angela to marry him and seeks James’ blessing.

But James thinks Ben is a joke — “He’s about a chromosome away from being a midget.”

So the men cut a deal. If Ben can handle the mental, physical and emotional challenges of a daylong patrol, James will accept him as a future brother-in-law. Of course, the undercover officer has a few tricks to ensure the utmost discomfort for his guest.

The “Ride Along” screenplay (credited to four writers) was originally intended for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Ryan Reynolds. That pairing — while certainly boasting bigger names — might have resulted in an even more generic action flick. There’s something inherently quirky about placing the motor-mouthed Hart and the stoic gangsta rapper Cube together. It helps the premise that these men seem like they would never hang out.

Tim Story (who directed both “Fantastic Four” films) attempts to blend all the tropes of a mismatched cop comedy (a la “The Heat”) with big action scenes (a la “Bad Boys”). His brain-dead opening sequence is filled with the kind of reckless shootouts and commandeered car chases that happen only in movies. Note of filmmaking advice: Ease up on the freeze frames.

Fortunately, things settle into a rhythm once the stars get thrown together. A few of these scenes appear familiar, too — especially if you saw an Eddie Murphy movie in the ’80s. Ben has to disperse a biker gang, just as Murphy went and scolded country bar patrons in “48 Hrs.” And a botched robbery at a strip club comes straight out of “Beverly Hills Cop.”

The difference? Hart is comfortable enough in his persona to let the viewers see him fail. He knows he’s not an action hero; he’s a comedian in an action movie.

“Ride Along” builds to a big (and exhausting) finale where Ben’s sassy skills become crucial to his and James’ survival. But it’s really more of the little stuff that reverberates, especially some amusing callbacks to Ben’s gaming obsession. The fact these abilities prove useful during battles with Serbian gangsters offers wish-fulfillment for anyone who has converted the living room into a “Halo” base.

Had “Ride Along” wrapped things up comedically instead of violently, it might have risen above its Hollywood action template. As it stands, the laughs Hart provides are too often drowned out by gunfire.

Hart attack: He’s everywhere

‘GRUDGE MATCH’: Kevin Hart is a desperately broke fight promoter, pushing for a rematch between past-their-prime boxers (Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro). (In theaters)

‘ABOUT LAST NIGHT’: He and Regina Hall bring the heat in this remake of the 1986 romantic comedy (based on a David Mamet play). (Opens Valentine’s Day)

‘THINK LIKE A MAN TOO’: The couples from the 2012 hit are back for a Las Vegas wedding weekend that goes all wrong. (June 20)

‘REAL HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD’: Season 2 of his sitcom, a parody of reality TV, just ended. Watch reruns on BET.

| Sharon Hoffmann, shoffmann@kcstar.com

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