Skip to main content

This ain’t no damn video game.

Ride Along
(2014)

I’ve been blissfully ignorant of the steady rise to stardom of Kevin Hart (although I have seen Meet Dave, if that counts), but on the evidence of Ride Along his hyperactive banter, with a winning strain of self-deprecation, needs to find significantly better material if he’s to endure. Although in the US, with the box office tally of this movie, you’d be sure he had already arrived. As ever, comedy is Hollywood’s thorniest international export, and it made negligible outroads internationally (a meagre 12% of the total gross). Discussing takings at the start of a review is a sure sign of shortcomings and Ride Along’s biggest is that it’s bereft of inspiration, essentially refitting The Hard Way in a tepid and perfunctory manner.


The pairing of Michael J. Fox and James Woods in that movie was inspired, a choice that naturally elevated the material; you could see the contempt oozing from Woods’ every pore, and Fox (even more diminutive than Hart) has always been game to send himself up. Hart and Ice Cube, as high school security guard Ben Barber who dreams of joining the force and hardened police detective James Payton respectively, have a reasonably edgy chemistry. Payton doesn’t want to know about the mosquito buzzing in his ear, and is set on doing everything he can to dissuade him from becoming a police officer, particularly since Ben is dating his sister (Tika Sumpter). Cube is a an okay straight man (there’s no point testing his very limited range), and works well bouncing abuse off Hart, but he flounders in pretty much any “proper” acting scene. Likewise Hart, who bears a surprising resemblance to Fred Ward from some angles, goes off on some half decent riffs, but when a scene calls for serious interaction it becomes clear he’s playing as if he’s the only man in the room, a common failing of the stand-up writ large.


The plot is collection of formulaic set pieces, familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of mismatched buddies (not even cops) movies; one (uptight, serious) starts out hating the other (a fantasist) but gradually, through the course of their time together, learns he has good qualities and thaws accordingly. Meanwhile, the dreamer proves himself (even possibly that he is a real man after all); The Hard Way commendably eschewed this.  Woods still hated Fox at the end. Here, Payton wants to bring down some Serbian arms dealers and their boss and, of course, Barber ends up providing him with unlikely help.


The picture is at its negligible finest during Hart’s showboating moments; confronting a biker gang over a disabled parking space, visiting a gun range, dealing with a crazy guy at the supermarket. And the old standards of mistaken circumstances and impersonation that serve him best. Accompanying Payton to a bar for what he assumes is another 126 (annoying calls used to put rookies through their paces), Barber believes a genuinely dangerous scenario to be make-believe.  Likewise, his impersonation of Omar (“I thought Omar was 6’ 4”?”).  It’s a scenario that’s been seen played out many times before, and done much better, but its mildly diverting.


Cube had etched himself out a regular spot in Januarys in the US, amassing a serious of successes that far exceeded their modest budgets, but this had tapered off of late; Ride Along is a shot in the arm for him. The best I can say is he does good reaction shots, angry or bewildered, mostly to Hart’s antics, and even has a fourth wall moment when Ben, behaving as if a warehouse shootout is a video game, goes searching for ammo on the floor and finds it; James looks disbelievingly into camera.


If there’s anything of thematic note to discuss about this movie, it’s the presentation of the fantasy escape world of video games as equal and worthy in to “real life” experiences (you know, the ones where Ice Cube exists as a cop); Ben’s knowledge, derived from Taliban crushing computer games, repeatedly comes in handy, against all odds and probabilities, leading to vital clues and leads. And rousingly, Ben’s game nerd buddies (“Thank you, Assface”) rally to help our heroes in the third act. Is this an attempt to swing the scales back in favour of the raging geeks? It’s a curiously valedictory message to send out, that sitting in front of a screen playing games all day is valuable and equips one for interaction with the great outside more than we would guess.


On the support side, I doubt any of the players are here for the love of the art. John Leguizamo can’t afford to be picky, while Bruce McGill and Laurence Fishburne always bring something to not necessarily very good material. Tim Story directed this; the guy Fox let shit all over The Fantastic Four not once, but twice (but hey, looking at the bottom line, which was Fox’s only criteria, it made sense; the kind of sense that got John Moore aboard Die Hard 5). Story’s got his second unit doing overtime again, which is to say this is barely directed. It’s a collection of shots stapled together. Right from the pace-deflating music that punctures the engaging opening title design its clear this will be a botch job. There’s no reason a comedy vehicle can’t have a good director, although it’s also the case that they rarely tarnish the reputation of bad ones; the Rush Hours made even Ratner look competent. I’m sure Story will ensure Ride Along 2 is every bit as scintillating as the first.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…