The most surprising thing about Ride Along - indeed, I am sore tempted to say the only thing that is in any way whatsoever surprising about Ride Along - is that it's such a straightforward action film. There's humor in it; Kevin Hart doesn't find himself headlining movies that don't have humor in them. But it's certainly not enough to call the film "a comedy", when it's really just the latest of the dozens - perhaps hundreds - perhaps thousands! - of movies to copy Lethal Weapon more or less intact. And thus does it happily position itself as the latest beneficiary of '80s throwback mania, though one that's not really eager to broadcast itself as such.

Hart plays Ben Barber, a high school security guard and world-class video gamer who longs to be a police officer, to impress his hot and awfully idealised girlfriend Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter), and perhaps to prove to his tiny little self that he has merit of a man. This nascent Napoleon complex has been greatly encouraged by Angela's brother, and only living relative, James (Ice Cube), a loose-cannon, tough sonofabitch cop in the Atlanta PD; the sort of cop who plays by no rulebook but his own; the sort of cop who gets the job done, but always coming thiiiis close to finally pushing his endlessly-flustered boss, Lt. Brooks (Bruce McGill), too far. You know. That sort of cop. And James despises the nervous little toad who wants his permission to marry Angela and a good word thrown in at the police academy, so in an attempt to scare Ben off for good, James takes him on a ride along, gamed to be as awful and humiliating as possible.

So that's one half of the equation. If I tell you the other half of the equation - that James and his colleagues Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen) have been doggedly pursuing a local mobster named Omar, a mysterious and unseen figure about to pull off a major arms deal, but keep ending up just a half-step short of catching him, and it needs some crazy, possibly video game-influenced out-of-the-box thinking to find the criminal - do you think you might be able to write the rest of the story yourself? I'll give you a hint: the twist is not that terrified loudmouth Ben has been Omar all along, as I was desperately hoping for the entire time. Though if it had been, I'd have a hell of a lot more respect for Ride Along, or at least admiration for its insanity.

In its current state, though, there's really not much about the film to command any kind of respect at all. It's not, strictly speaking, accurate to call it "bad". Certainly, solely in terms of genre, it is a far more adequate and functional piece of action cinema than director Tim Story's last efforts in that area, the horrendous Fantastic Four movies. It's just that it's so painfully expected, in every detail. The beats mostly come in the order and places you'd expect if you seen more than one or two antagonistic buddy cop movies, and while not every single detail is predictable (most are, though; and one reveal is obvious if only on the "why else would that actor take that role?" argument), and Ben's gradual growth into a strong, brave figure is hugely routine, in addition to being a weak fit for Hart's best strengths as a comic actor.

What value the film has is almost exclusively due to whatever chemistry sparks between Hart and Ice Cube. That's not negligible, by any means, though Ice Cube is so fixed on playing the most angry, stand-offish elements of his character that it's certainly not as fun as it should be. It is, however, characteristic of a weird facet of the movie, which as a whole seems strangely committed to following through on its internal logic, as though everyone involved was anxious to make this odd couple cop picture hew as closely to human behavior in such situations really would. I guess that's admirable? But in something so bald-facedly generic, the contract the audience makes with the movie is for heightened sensation and a calculated dismissal of reality. I'm not saying that Ride Along is an example of neo-realism, or anything, simply that it is too concerned with its own version of authenticity to go for the gags that are just sitting right there, if you bend character truth just enough to find them.

Anyway, it ends up being neither particularly fun nor funny, and the handful of straight-up comedy scenes all die onscreen, playing like improv gone bad (the worst offender finds Ben bluffing a warehouse full of gun-toting criminals, with Hart yammering on and on for what feels like ten solid minutes of go-nowhere prattle. I am sure it's closer to two). It's perfectly smooth and slick, and the scenes that click between Ice Cube and Hart are genuinely fun to watch, enough that I'd like to see the two of them in a different script, probably with a different director, and make something with a bit more of a dangerous edge and willingness to go for some kind of energy, rather than just competently execute a boring script. The greatest sin of Ride Along is its utter lack of personality, for good or ill, and it's immensely forgettable in the end.