Ride Along (2014)

Ride AlongReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Tim Story. Starring: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter. Runtime: 99 min.

Buddy comedies remain one of the most dime-a-dozen, yet bankable, sub-genres of comedy and action. Last year, Paul Fieg made an attempt at re-inventing the genre by simply replacing men as the focal point, with women (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy were the unlikely duo) appearing in “The Heat.” The buddy cop action comedy is a formula that’s never going to change, but we can always hope for a film to try to mix things up and still give us a good time.

The newest buddy cop comedy “Ride Along” stars Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. Ben (Kevin Hart) is a fast-talking security guard who has just been accepted to the police academy. This film is really about him proving himself that he could be a good police officer, as well as prove to his girlfriend’s (Tika Sumpter) brother James (Ice Cube) that he’s man enough to marry his sister. And how does he prove that he’s man enough? Well, James can take him on a ride along, of course! Isn’t that the only way? And he proves to people watching the film that he’s man enough by nicknaming his penis the black hammer (and that’s his gamer tag, too!)

It’s funny to me that this ride along can prove that Ben is man enough to marry the sister and be a police officer, while it’s simply an excuse for James to humiliate him and prove that he can’t do either. Meanwhile, James really wants to take down this feared Atlanta criminal named Omar; he’s a ghost because he’s never been seen. One knows when that’s the case with a big-time villain, the reveal is either going to be someone we’ve already seen on screen, or a random big-name actor. I won’t reveal which one it is here, don’t worry. James has been chasing this Omar character for three years, which is ruffling his lieutenant’s feathers. It feels uninspired and a simple excuse to make this film look like it has a plot; but it is the sub-plot that enables action to happen.

If this sub-plot wasn’t existent, the film would simply be a comedic version of “Training Day.” Regardless, this is still a comedic version of “TD” – the filmmakers put in that silly sub-plot in to make it less obvious. They will help some people make the connection to it by saying that film’s title, so at least they’re honest about the fact that we’ve seen this story before. The film isn’t as bad as I might be making it out to be in these first paragraphs; I just wanted to get the flaws out of the way. The action scenes are amusing because they’re able to add comedy to the action mix of it all. That can be difficult, filmmakers try and try to do that – but it’s usually a miss. It hits here, once or twice. So director Tim Story (“Fantastic Four”) should get some recognition for it.

The film is usually entertaining because of the consistent laughs. The film is as familiar and unoriginal as they come, but I think you’ll find yourself laughing a lot, but maybe a bit less if you’ve seen the trailer beforehand – I managed to not see the trailer once. The multiple laugh-out-loud moments are the most enjoyable parts of the film. Well, really the only enjoyable parts – the action is straight-forward and there are explosions; so that might make this a fun flick for people who like loud noises. There’s an amusing aspect in one of the action scenes, but I won’t spoil it because now that I saw the trailer after watching this, I won’t spoil a funny scene that wasn’t in the trailer.

This feels like an advertisement for XBOX Live at times, but whatever; video games are cool, too. It seems Hart’s character is inspired by video games to become a cop, but with his knowledge of the sounds of weapons developed by playing realistic video games, he might just be better off as a weapons specialist. Or he might just be better off continuing playing video games with his buddy Assface. That’s a funny name, but the filmmakers are making it too easy for people to criticize it and say that they (the writers) are trying too hard for a laugh every time the name is said. At least the film is funny, but this is one of those comedies where only one character gets the laughs. That character is Ben, and Hart’s energy helps the film not be a trainwreck. Anyway, he makes it enjoyable for the audience members, while Ice Cube is simply the straight man. He isn’t able to have much fun in his role, unless you consider screwing with Ben’s character a fun activity. Cube’s stern facial expressions and his pissed-off comic delivery works with some characters (like his angry police captain in “21 Jump Street”) but it doesn’t work here.

The main reason why James hates Ben so much is because Ben accidentally set him on fire at a barbeque one time. That’s one reason to hold a grudge, I guess. Some might just want to say to him; man, you got burnt, get over it and just be thankful it didn’t leave any ugly scars on your face. Since James hates Ben for a fair majority of the film, the chemistry isn’t enjoyable. It’s a buddy comedy but the buddy aspect doesn’t feel there. In buddy movies, the two main characters might not like each other at first but they usually have a heart-to-heart about halfway through. With this, it feels like it’s never going to come. Also, with other buddy cop movies, they might not like each other, but at least one of them isn’t trying to humiliate the other. It makes James look like an antagonist to Ben’s dreams. Ben tries hard be nice to James because he loves his sister, but it’s hard when the guy is such a dick. She must be a real freak in the bedroom to make him willing to deal with James.

Note: This is one of those movies I had to put a lot of thought into my score because I enjoyed the laughs, but it was really a toss-up between getting a 60 or a 58, it might not mean much a difference to some, but it means being rotten and not being rotten on a Rotten Tomatoes scale. In the end, Hart won me over.

Score60/100

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End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch

Release Date: September 21, 2012

Director: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick

Runtime: 109 min

Tagline: Watch your six, September 21

This follows the relationship of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, who are two best friend police officers. Soon enough, the two young officers are marked for death once they seize a small cache of money and firearms by a notorious cartel, all during a seemingly routine traffic stop.

Writer/director David Ayer brings us some of his best work since 2001’s Training Day. He once again took both good actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, and made those guys great ones. There’s something about independent films, or found footage films like this, that make the actors’ performances so genuine. The characters of Brian and Mike are so real, because they love like real people, laugh like real people, and get scared like real people. Their characters feel so real, that, they could very well be sitting in the theatre with you. They could also very well be eating popcorn out of your bag. Even though, you would probably know if they were doing that. If you didn’t know they were, you may very well be blind or have a mental retardation of sorts.

You may want to not know a whole lot of the plot going into this, because it has a slower-than-traditional pace for such a film, because it didn’t really feel like it got into the heart of the plot until at least the first hour-mark. That’s at least when they physically find the coveted cache of cha-ching and AK-47’s like the one you see Peña holding in the film’s poster. Even though it takes so long to get to the beating heart of the plot, you probably won’t mind. There’s just a lot of emotional, funny, exhilirating content to keep you intrigued and going the whole way. The most exhilirating moments are when they are on duty and when they get to a crime scene, which is a vast majority of the flick; and the last twenty minutes. The ending does feel abrupt, but it still does leave a smile on one’s face, so you probably won’t feel deprived of a great ending. The whole feature is superbly written.

You can tell that it’s found-footage by the first camera shot from the windshield of the car during that car chase which makes it feel like they’re in a good game of Need for Speed or Grand Theft Auto. Also, there are some nice gun-point views, to make it seem like they’re going to shoot bad guys in a game of Call of Duty. If any film deserves to be found footage other than a low-budget horror, it’s this. Yeah, move over Project X, you sucked. If it wasn’t found footage, their characters may not have felt so real. It feels like a lower budget, and the director certainly didn’t say, “Okay, guys. Act like stupid Hollywood stars, and I’ll give you a nice paycheck.” Other great performers in here are America Fererra (even though her role is petite), Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez.

End of Watch does for cops what Ladder 49 did for fire fighters, but it’s about twenty-six times better. It’s told to us smartly, and isn’t dumbed down for a purely Hollywood audience. It shows the dangers of the job of being an officer, the obstacles they must go through to protect us, some stress the family members must go through each day, and the general, very real lives, of the officers involved.

Watch is superbly written, has a list of great performances, and carries itself quite well. Some may say the ending was quite abrupt, and in ways it may have been, but for the majority would be satisfied by the ending. It ends off on a good note, and the finished product is generally impressive.

80/100