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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The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
Oprah's jury delivers guilty verdict
Talk show maven Oprah Winfrey, who was one of 12 jurors who convicted a Chicago man of murder Wednesday, said her three days in the jury box was an eye-opening experience. "It's a huge reality check; there's a whole other world going on out there," Winfrey, surrounded by other jurors, said in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building lobby. "When your life intersects with others in this way, it is forever changed." The Associated Press reports the jury deliberated for less than three hours before convicting 27-year-old Dion Coleman of first-degree murder in the February 2002 shooting death of Walter Holley, 23. Coleman is scheduled to be sentenced next month and could face 45 years to life in prison. The otherwise routine trial received more intense interest because of Winfrey's involvement, something the media mogul tried to downplay. "This is not good for the victim's family, " she said of the media hype. "This is not about Oprah Winfrey. The fact is, a man has been murdered." Winfrey, who was paid the standard $17.20 a day for her jury duty, said she plans to bring her experience as a juror on a murder trial to her TV show next week.
Trump board game hits stores
Donald Trump has unveiled his newest business venture: a new Parker Brothers board game. According to the AP, Trump, the Game can be played by up to four players who bid on real estate, buy big ticket items, including islands and office buildings, and make billion-dollar business deals. Players can also terminate their opponents using The Donald's trademark words "You're fired" from his hit TV reality show The Apprentice. Mark Blecher, senior vice president of marketing at Hasbro Games (the parent company of Parker Brothers), said the game "allows players to feel the power and make the deals." Trump, the Game retails for $24.99.
Moore to publish book of soldiers' letters
Publisher Simon & Schuster announced Wednesday that Michael Moore has two new books coming out this fall. The first book, The Official 'Fahrenheit 9-11' Reader, is a companion book to the scheduled DVD release of Moore's controversial documentary about President Bush, the terrorist attacks and the Iraq war. The other release, Will They Ever Trust Us Again?, is a collection of letters written to Moore from U.S. troops in Iraq. "Our goal is to have both books out before Election Day," Simon & Schuster spokeswoman Victoria Meyer told the AP. His previous books include Stupid White Men and Dude, Where's My Country?
The Contender loses round one in court
A California judge yesterday denied DreamWorks TV and Mark Burnett's first bid to stop Fox Broadcasting Co. from premiering it's boxing skein The Next Great Champ on Sept. 10. DreamWorks and Burnett claim Fox ripped off their own boxing reality show, The Contender, and tried to stop Champ from debuting as scheduled by arguing the show's producers violated state boxing laws in a bid to beat them to the airwaves. But according to court papers, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz did leave open the possibility of blocking the Champ in the near future by setting a Sept. 8 hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction against the show. The judge also ordered an expedite exchange of documents between the parties to the lawsuit, Reuters reports.
Celebs gearing up for fall sitcom appearances
Joan Rivers, who openly jokes about her own cosmetic surgery, will guest star as herself on the season finale of the FX drama series Nip/Tuck, set to air Oct. 5. In the episode, Rivers meets with the show's plastic surgeons for an unusual cosmetic consultation. Newlyweds star and singer Nick Lachey, meanwhile, is set to play Alyssa Milano's love interest in an upcoming six-episode arc on the WB's Charmed, which kicks off its new season Sept. 12. And last but not least, Jennifer Lopez will return to guest star as herself on the season premiere of NBC's Will & Grace, set to air Sept. 16. In the episode, Lopez, who was recruited by Megan Mullally's character to sing at her Vegas marriage last season, returns to New York after her summer tour, where Sean Hayes' character served as a backup dancer.
Howard Stern gets animated series on Spike TV
Radio host Howard Stern will be appearing as a teenage cartoon character of himself in a new animated series tentatively titled Howard Stern: The High School Years. Reuters reports the male-oriented cable channel Spike TV has ordered 13 episodes of the show, which is based on Stern's teenage years growing up on New York's Long Island. The network said Wednesday it has not yet determined whether Stern will lend his voice to his own character. A Spike TV spokesman said Stern is serving as executive producer of the series, and added the shock jock's parents be major characters on the cartoon series. As of this week, episodes are still being written, with producers conducting animation tests. Howard Stern: The High School Years is aimed for launch in the summer of 2005.
Are the Black Crowes reuniting?
Singer Chris Robinson, who is married to actress Kate Hudson, has canceled plans for a fall tour with his band New Earth Mud, amid rumors he may reteam with younger brother Rich under the Black Crowes moniker. Billboard.com reports the warring siblings have recently met with former manager Pete Angelus to discuss a potential reunion. Fueling the reunion speculations is the recent reactivation of the Black Crowes' Web site (http://www.blackcrowes.com), which had been largely dormant since the group announced a hiatus in 2002. Robinson and Hudson, who were married on December 31, 2000 in Colorado and have a 7-month-old son, have recently denied reports their three-year marriage is on the rocks.
Film composer Elmer Bernstein dies
Film composer Elmer Bernstein, who created themes for The Magnificent Seven, The Man With The Golden Arm and To Kill a Mockingbird, died in his sleep at his Ojai, Calif., home Wednesday at age 82, the AP reports. Bernstein, who earned 14 Academy Award nominations, an Oscar and an Emmy Award in his 70-year career, is survived by his wife, Eve, sons Peter and Gregory, daughters Emilie and Elizabeth, and five grandchildren. Among Bernstein's more notable efforts were the scores for Some Came Running, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Great Escape, Hawaii, The Great Santini, My Left Foot, A River Runs Through It, Devil in a Blue Dress and The Age of Innocence. He also composed several works for symphony orchestras, some 200 movies and 80 television shows. He won an Emmy Award in 1964 for The Making of The President: 1960 and an Oscar only once for the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie. A memorial service is pending.