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'Ride Along' review: Or don't get in that car

** (out of four)

A premise half-heartedly searching for a movie, “Ride Along” hopes its personalities can elevate formula into funny. No dice.

On paper the pairing of short loudmouth Kevin Hart and strong, silent Ice Cube sounds like buddy cop movie perfection. On screen the dynamic gets old and goes next to nowhere. Ben (Hart) wants to propose to his girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter), but first needs the blessing of her brother, James (Cube), an Atlanta police officer. Ben just got into the academy, so you’d think his future brother-in-law might want to bond over common interests. You’d be wrong; James thinks no one, especially this little twerp, is good enough for his sister, and believes one day together in a cop car will be enough to send Ben running from both his profession and family.

Often used as supporting comic relief, Hart (“Think Like a Man,” the upcoming “About Last Night” remake) does well with Ben’s eagerness to be liked. He’s an appealing underdog, working not to be seen as an underpuppy. But too often “Ride Along” seeks laughs from Hart dialing up the volume in scene after scene of Ben encountering a strange person and failing to control the situation. Of course James is a loner who doesn’t trust anyone and so forth, and Cube struggles as a straight man. (He was a funnier cop in a smaller role in “21 Jump Street.”)

Once James progresses with his bland investigation of a villain named Omar—amusingly, the cops only know what he looked like at 9 years old—this woefully predictable action-comedy recalls the far superior madcap ensemble of “Date Night” and the forgettable “The Heat.” Not to mention the countless buddy cop movies (“Lethal Weapon”) that the PG-13-rated “Ride Along” admires but lacks the edge and character to replicate.

In fact, the movie makes repeated reference to “Training Day.” Yet “Ride Along,” with its long gaps between laughs, is only slightly funnier than the Denzel flick, which wasn’t a comedy. That’s a problem.

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