In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
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Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
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We should consider ourselves lucky Nikki McKibbin, Corey Clark, Scott Savol, Sanjaya Malakar, Danny Gokey, Tim Urban, Jacob Lusk, and Elise Testone were contestants on American Idol. And that's coming from an Idol superfan who absolutely despised Nikki McKibbin, Corey Clark, Scott Savol, Sanjaya Malakar, Danny Gokey, Tim Urban, Jacob Lusk, and Elise Testone.
And five weeks into Season 12's finals, we should consider ourselves lucky that Lazaro Arbos has not only managed to outlast four more talented male contestants, but also attract an astonishing number of votes for a contestant so far out of his league, you might as well name him Kit. Because without Arbos, we'd be left with a crop of singers talented enough to sit alongside Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood on the Billboard charts. We'd be left with a crop of singers with interview packages charming enough to help us develop an unhealthy obsession with their Twitter feeds. But mostly, we'd be left with a crop of talented singers and no villian.
As much as the Idol viewing experience revolves around rooting for your favorite contestant, it also revolves around rooting against your least favorite contestant. What's the fun of loving a Tamyra Gray, Jordin Sparks, or an Adam Lambert if you can't hate a McKibbin, Malakar, or Gokey? (Heck, Season 6's ratings dropped a whopping nine percent after Malakar's elimination.) American Idol is a reality series without built-in twists, smack talk-inducing confessionals, and camera-ready weave-pulling. (That is, unless you count this.) If not for each season's anointed villain, it would be a reality series devoid of drama.
And, boy, is Arbos drama. Though his ability to sing through a speech disorder is certainly inspiring, the past few weeks have proven Arbos is as arrogant as he is ill-prepared. Just see his inability to remember lyrics in multiple performances and his dismissive response to negative feedback from Randy following his disastrous "For Once In My Life": "No problem, boo." And don't even get me started on his excuse that he had learned "In My Life" a mere 24 hours before his middling performance, a claim rebutted by Jimmy Iovine, who said he had been working on the song with Arbos for several days. I could go on — for paragraphs, and probably even days — about how much I dislike this Idol contestant... and that's exactly what Idol needs. Candice Glover, Angie Miller, Kree Harrison, Amber Holcomb, and Janelle Arthur are five extremely talented women with a real shot of making it in the music industry. I can only pray to the AT&T gods that they're rewarded the top five slots they so deserve. But I'm also ashamed to admit I'd be a bit disappointed to let go of Arbos, a contestant who is just so much fun to hate.
True, there have been a couple Idol seasons that were extremely enjoyable without the presence of villains. The dueling Davids was enough to carry Season 7, and Season 2 hit Idol's first televised sweet spot with the sweet friendship between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. But Season 12's fabulous five females don't quite boast the innovation of Season 7's contestants, or the advantage of being members of a fresh new reality series like Season 2's singers. Season 12, with all of its undeniable talent, runs the risk of being boring. And while some Idol fans would point to Arbos' mere presence as evidence of the existence of the Rule of Three (every third Idol season is a terrible one), a drama-free season could very well put it over the edge.
Do I hope Arbos sings his farewell tune soon? Of course. Will Idol's top five girls make it in the industry regardless of their placement? In the name of Jennifer Hudson, I do believe so. Do I hope Arbos makes it as far as the top three? Absolutely not — I have ears, don't I?
But as fun as it is to hear Glover belt a serious note or Holcomb nail an impossible run, our Internet-trolling generation is addicted to hating on the most obnoxious of Arbos quotes. No doubt we'll even find something to hate in this one — Arbos tells Hollywood.com the sympathy vote is not responsible for his existence on the show. "It's getting a bit old and people have to let go of that," he says. "They keep saying that that is the only reason why I'm on the show, and I would just like to say that I haven't talked about my speech since day one, and the people that love me love me for my songs, and they also love me for my speech, but they don't say, 'Oh, I love the way you talk so much.'"
Unfortunately for Arbos, until he's let go from the show, fans eager to cling onto their five favorite girls won't stop blaming his success on the sympathy card. Nor will they let go of their desire to send him packing. But these same fans will undoubtedly be disappointed when Arbos is gone, no matter how ardently they watch in the coming weeks, hoping that he finally sings his swan song. And that's why Idol, as its ratings continue to decline, desperately needs its villain: Fans are riled up, but they're still watching, aren't they?
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Fun Size may be the only production from kid-centric studio Nickelodeon to also feature underage drinking (complete with red solo cups) and boob groping. The murky demographic for the movie ends up hurting the well-intentioned Halloween flick — it's not quite suitable for the young ones nor is it funny or wild enough for the Gossip Girl crowd which director Josh Schwartz (creator of the show) knows well. Instead we get a floundering trick or treat adventure that reduces the colorful twisted holiday to a meandering situational comedy.
Nick TV grad Victoria Justice (Victorious) stars as Wren a high school "geek" who finds herself unable to bag the guy of her dreams (who adores her) but finds a glimmer of hope in the big cool kids' Halloween party. Ready for a night out with her best friend April (Jane Levy) Wren thinks life is finally going her way until her Mom (Chelsea Handler) sticks her with her troublemaking little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) for the night. If chaperoning Albert wasn't already the worst thing in the world Wren finds herself in an even bigger dilemma when her brother wanders off into his own night of mischievous debauchery.
The "one crazy night" formula fits perfectly with Halloween but Fun Size struggles to find interesting material for its eclectic ensemble. Unlike many of the young actresses who have previously collaborated with Schwartz Justice seems unable to crack his voice and comedic style. She's too hip to too aware to play someone struggling with high school. The material doesn't serve her or Levy either; off-color jokes and a bizarre sense of entitlement turn them into two people you don't want to see succeed. Luckily for the audience during their sweeping search for Albert Wren and April cross paths with two true nerd-looking boys: Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau) who along with feeling like real teenagers actually land a joke or two.
Interwoven into this speedy adventure — Fun Size clocks in at a little over 75 minutes giving little time to flesh out our teenage heroes — is Albert's encounter with a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy. The adults of Fun Size see the ten-year-old Albert as a parter-in-crime rather than a lost little boy. Fuzzy recruits him for a raid on his ex-girlfriend's house; after running away he meets a lady who brings him to a nightclub. At one point a sleazebag kidnaps Albert and locks him in his bedroom. If Fun Size were madcap it may all make sense. Instead things just happen — and it's not hilarious scary or even deranged.
Nick's '90s sitcom Pete & Pete created an amazing sense of weirdness and heart in its exploits of two teenage brothers. Anyone could watch and enjoy it. Fun Size has a beautiful look (the colors of Halloween are mesmerizing) and Schwartz as always has impeccable soundtrack tastes but when it comes to telling a story that feels both relatable and wonderfully weird — what Pete & Pete did so well — the movie falls flat. It's stereotype humor (the movie packs many a fat and gay joke) doesn't cut it — when paired to Nick's best efforts the movie lives up to the title: a bite-size portion of a bigger better cinematic sweet.