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Review: 'Ride Along' coasts on Kevin Hart's comedy

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"Ride Along," the latest go at the action-comedy-buddy-cop genre, has the stone-hard cool of Ice Cube and the manic energy of stand-up comic Kevin Hart.

With a sharper script, "Ride" might have reached the bar set in the 1980s by Eddie Murphy in "48 Hrs." and "Beverly Hills Cop." But the laughs here are lazy, and any sense of logic is definitely on the lam.

The film's not-so-secret weapon is Hart. Even with bad material, the guy is really funny. Yet the movie relies too heavily on Hart's ability to riff endlessly, and breathlessly, on his stature or lack of it (the comic is 5-foot-2 and he works it), his bravado or lack of it and, of course, his sex appeal or lack of it.

Cube is solid as the impenetrable brick wall that Hart's comic barrage bounces off. Their odd-couple shtick delivers laughs. But more often than not "Ride Along" chokes on its own fumes.

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The two men are initially framed by what divides them. On one side is tough Atlanta detective James Payton (Cube) in the midst of a high-stakes arrest. Cut to Ben Barber (Hart), a high-school security guard completely engrossed in upping his score during a video game shootout.

The conflict turns on Payton's plan to stomp out Barber's dreams of marrying the detective's sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) and joining the Atlanta police force. Which is not a bad starting point.

What Barber doesn't know is that Payton has devised a "rookie ride along" designed to frighten him out of his wits and make it clear he's out of his league. But as fate would have it, a chance for Payton to catch an elusive and infamously unseen drug lord intervenes.

Let the friction and the fun begin. ... If only.

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Tim Story, who directed Hart in his 2012 breakout "Think Like a Man," pretty much puts everything on the comic's back and forgot that a movie needs a story. "Ride Along" — written by Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi — doesn't have much of one. The plot twists are more like narrative accidents. Even a comedy about cops can't get away with being completely implausible, though this one certainly tries.

As Payton, Cube is required to scowl a lot, which he does very well. Harder is giving some punch to the phrase, "This is where it gets real," or some variation of it, about 100 times.

"Ride Along" is the kind of action comedy or drama in which the popular rapper-turned-actor is often cast. But in movies like "21 Jump Street," "Rampart" and the lighter down-home humor of "Barbershop," whether he's a good guy or bad, funny or not, Cube has proved he can do more than what he's given here.

There is a lot of action and a lot of talk, much of it painfully delivered by "Ride Along's" strong and mostly squandered cast, including John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Callen and Jay Pharoah.

There is an endearing sweetness to Barber's romancing of Angela, making it believable that the leggy beauty would fall for him. Sumpter doesn't get much screen time, which is unfortunate because she's a promising young talent and she uses her time well.

But "Ride Along" is very much Hart's game. When he gets revved up, the comedy is delivered rapid fire. His signature style, which first made him a stand-out on the comedy circuit, is kind of like an assault rifle with its trigger locked on auto.

Barber's bumbling attempts to try his hand at interrogating a suspect, or at firing a gun — or both at the same time — are little gems. His hapless machismo keeps getting him and Payton into increasingly dangerous fixes. Occasionally, Barber inadvertently does something right. It's a toss up which irritates Payton more.

Within some of the chaos, there are glimmers of what might have been. And Hart certainly tries to save the day. But like nearly everything else in "Ride Along," he falls a little short. At least the guns are blazing ... .

'Ride Along'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: In general release

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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