Director: Tim Story
Starring: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter, John Leguizamo, Bryan Callan, Bruce McGill, Laurence Fishburne
Kevin Hart has to be one of the hardest working men in show business at the moment. He has a successful career in stand-up comedy, a popular television series in Real Husbands of Hollywood, and numerous film projects in various stages of development. With the buddy-cop movie Ride Along Hart is attempting to make the transition into the realm of the “above the title” movie star.
Hart plays Ben Barber, a security guard in an Atlanta high school and an avid gamer, who has finally been accepted into the police academy. With his life falling into place, he plans to propose to his girlfriend, Angela, but first wants to get the blessing of her protective older brother, James. James is a cop himself, of the lone-wolf variety, and demands that Ben prove himself capable of looking after his sister before he will grant his blessing. So James invites Ben to ride along with him for a day to test him out.
Ride Along fancies itself as a comedic take on Training Day, and the numerous references to the film are obviously intended to make sure the audience draws that connection, but really what we have here is an action comedy in the tradition of Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours and Rush Hour… though not quite as good. The action-comedy is a genre we don’t get as much of these days but it is a proven star maker and the ideal genre for someone of Kevin Hart’s talents. In Ride Along Hart is playing that Eddie Murphy role (from back in the days when Murphy limited himself to playing just the one character in each film), that fast talking, energetic, comic character.
If this review seems to be all about Kevin Hart it is because when it boils down to it, Ride Along is all about Kevin Hart. The film is at its best when it puts the progressing of the largely ho-hum storyline to one side and just lets him be the focus. Watching this loud, motor-mouthed but ultimately extremely unqualified character attempting to handle police situations is quite fun. His co-star Ice Cube, on the other hand, is a bit harder to handle. Whether by design or simply through his performance, Cube’s character just comes across as very one note. There is no light and shade, no real character development. What he does do is demonstrate how difficult it actually is to play the straight man opposite the clown.
Ride Along is a very formulaic film, but let’s face it, no one is going along to see this movie hoping to be challenged in any way. Its formulaic nature makes it comfortable, and if you come in with sufficiently low expectations there are some genuine laughs here and there is some fun to be had.
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Peter Segal
Hollywood has a history of mashing together popular franchises in the search of blockbuster success. We’ve had AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason. Back in the 1940s you had Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The same mindset is at play in Peter Segal’s Grudge Match, which may as well have been called ‘Rocky vs. Raging Bull.’ Of course, technically it is not a mash up as it presents new and original characters. But in casting Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads, the filmmakers have inherited the audience’s associations with the legendary pugilists they have previously portrayed. It’s an odd pairing because despite both being about boxing, the two films couldn’t be more different. Rocky is an uplifting sports movie about a likeable underdog who finally gets his shot. Raging Bull is an art-house film about a damaged man whose anger and violence destroys his life. There is a reason there are six Rocky movies and only one Raging Bull.
But this isn’t Balboa vs La Motta. It is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp vs. Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. Razor and The Kid enjoyed one of the great sporting rivalries in their prime. They met twice in the ring for one victory a piece, with each loss being the only defeat of that fighter’s career. But the third and deciding bout never happened because in the lead up to the anticipated fight Razor shocked the world by announcing his retirement. Thirty years go by before a down-and-out, motor-mouthed promoter manages to coax them back in the ring for the grudge match the world has been waiting to see.
Grudge Match clearly wants to trade off the legacies of Rocky and Raging Bull. So we first meet The Kid doing a rather pathetic nightclub show which is reminiscent of the final act of Raging Bull, and we have the obligatory scene in a meat locker where Razor shapes up to punch a beef carcass before being told not to. There is also a key plot point relating to Razor and the final fight which comes straight out of Rocky II. But as much as it tries to get you to think of those movies, you are also very aware that what you are watching isn’t them. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the training montage which feels eerily quiet without the brass of ‘Gonna Fly Now’ blaring over the soundtrack.
Rather than being a straight up sports movie Grudge Match is a comedy, and that doesn’t help it. The jokes aren’t good enough to make the film genuinely funny, but they are constant enough to be a distraction. Some of the jokes are also in surprisingly poor taste. While De Niro has settled into a career as a comic actor, and Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin are right at home, the comedy format doesn’t make the best use of Stallone. Sly is a better actor than many people give him credit for. He has a real ability to elicit sympathy for a character – it’s part of what made the Rocky franchise work – and in the more dramatic scenes of Grudge Match he acts rings around De Niro. But he struggles with comedy. His sense of timing and his delivery aren’t as strong as his co-stars and the material isn’t good enough to compensate for that.
All of the film’s plot complications feel unnecessarily forced and the final fight, despite being the thing the whole movie has built towards, doesn’t quite crescendo the way that it should. In the end this movie feels as tired as its two aging stars must have after going ten rounds. The most interesting part of the movie comes in the final credits where there is a short scene between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean