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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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Shocker: It’s still a girls game on American Idol. After a quick trip back to Los Angeles, the judges, Ryan Seacrest, and the Top 20 nestled into the Idol auditorium to find out who’d be staying on as part of the Top 10 finalists. Fan favorites like Kree Harrison, Angie Miller, Burnell Taylor, and Lazaro Arbos were easy fits, but as the night wore on, disappointment hit more than a few times.
Of course, most of those time were when we realized that likeable singers like Paul Jolley nabbed spots that could have gone to strong lady singers like castoff Aubrey Cleland were there not a strict five-spot-per-gender rule. Of course, if the past teaches us anything, it’s that voters probably would have kept a few too many of the ho-hum dudes and sent home girls who deserved to stay. Still, it was an exciting night on Idol.
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We got to see what it looks like behind Idol’s famous video screen door. We got to see the singers’ genuine reactions before the judges or the audience, thanks to Ryan delivering the news to them backstage, before anyone else could hear. We got to witness the adorable moment when Keith Urban let Nicki Minaj lean on him as they walked to their seats because Nicki wore impossibly high heels. We got to see Mariah Carey’s incomparable breasts peeking out from behind a mesh v-shape in her patent leather ball gown. We got to witness the cross-promotion of Carey’s new single and the movie she sang it for, Oz the Great and Powerful. But unfortunately, we still didn’t get to see much of Randy Jackson’s prized shoes, which is a shame because Seacrest once told me that Randy has a new pair for every single episode of the show.
RELATED: 'Idol' Recap: Top 10 Guys Step It Up
As the finalists were announced, they each got to perform a victory song followed by feedback, but not criticism, from their favorite judges. I know the point is that we’re not supposed to judge, but if you’re like me, the wheels in your brain were turning, you were judging each and every performance, and you’ve already got a ranking system in your head. Here’s mine:
10. Paul Jolley singing “Alone” by Heart: While he was much better than he was on Wednesday night, he’s still not the strongest of the bunch. But man, is he handsome.
9. Lazaro Arbos singing “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel: It was a good emotional reprisal of his audition song considering he’s overcome adversity and made it to the final 10. It’s very sweet, and very much in his comfort zone, but he will need to step it up to make it past the other fantastic singers.
8. Devin Velez singing “The Power of One (Change The World)” by Isreal Houghton: Nicki clearly didn’t like that he shied away from a ballad, but he’s found a way to be a little more relevant with this upbeat song. His ballads are fantastic, but he’s got to be able to do upbeat to be a mainstream artist. And he gets a few bonus points for his adorable blue-eye-shadow-laden mama hitting on Ryan.
7. Curtis Finch singing “So High” by John Legend: Let’s just make peace with the fact that Curtis rubs me the wrong way. That feeling won’t go away, so I’m going to do my best to get past that long enough to write about his performance: I love this song, I love the effortless way in which John Legend sings it. Curtis’ vocal acrobatics prove he’s got a serious skill, but I’m not a fan of the way he pushes this smooth song. That’s why he’s so far down on this list, but still, I can admit he’s talented.
RELATED: Can We Trust the 'Idol' Judges?
6. Amber Holcomb singing “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan: This is where I start to get a bit confused because I love, love, love everyone I’ve ranked from sixth to first. I love them all. While Amber has an issue with sounding current, it’s hard to deny she’s got an incredible voice. And she’s not even trying. At all. It’s almost infuriating. Her voice is so good, and the girl never even breaks a sweat.
5. Janelle Arthur singing “Home” by Dierks Bentley: Janelle has never been my cup of tea, but her emotional connection really brought it home on Thursday night. She finally chose a current song and it makes her feel like she really could be a singer with a hit single on the radio right now. And with tears in her pretty little eyes, she’s a delight to watch. America loves themselves a sweet, little blonde country singer.
4. Candice Glover singing “I’m Goin’ Down" by Rose Royce: I love this girl. She’s so, so good. I like her rendition of this song better than Mary J. Blige’s cover, because it just pours out of her so naturally. She’s just strutting around that stage letting her incredible voice just flow, and after watching her go home too soon last season, it’s hard not to cheer her on a time like this.
3. Angie Miller singing “I Was Here” by Beyonce: She’s adorable and misty as she takes the stage in her sparkly pants. Despite being outside of her usual style. Beyonce’s ballad turned out to be a great choice. I like that she didn’t try to Beyonce-ify her performance. She just tried to make it as Angie as possible. It wasn’t a super clean performance, but the emotional connection was so great it almost doesn’t matter. She’s so marketable, so genuine. She belongs up there.
2. Burnell Taylor singing “Ready for Love” by India.Arie: I want a woman to win this year. I really, truly do. But if a man has to take the crown, it had better be Burnell. He. is. amazing. The intricate things he does with his voice are beautiful and his personality comes through every time he sings. He has every piece it takes to be considered the complete package. He’s going to seriously test my feminist resolve this season.
1. Kree Harrison singing “Evidence” by Susan Tedeschi: This girl rocks. Hard. She’s flawless and connected, just like she always has been. If we’re picking horses, this girl is the one to beat.
Now that gender is no longer a factor in who stays and who goes, let’s hope voters can see the great disparity between the incredibly talented women and the fairly talented men on this show.
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[Photo Credit: Fox]
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Disney animators are back on top of the cartoon world after dominating nominations for the 37th annual Annie Awards.
The family film studio's The Princess and the Frog landed eight nods, and upcoming festive TV special Prep and Landing claimed nine in the TV awards categories.
The Princess and the Frog will compete with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Secret of Kells and Up for the Annie Awards' top honor, Best Film, while The Simpsons will be the major competition for Prep and Landing in the Best Animated TV Production category.
The coveted Best Animated Television Production for Children prize will be fought for by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, SpongeBob Squarepants, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, The Mighty B! and The Penguins of Madagascar.
Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Pete Docter (Up), Chris Miller and Phil Lord (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo) and Henry Selick (Coraline) will compete for the Best Director award. Anderson and writing partner Noah Baumbach are also favorites to land the writing award for Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Meanwhile, John Leguizamo (Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs), Dawn French (Coraline), Hugh Laurie (Monsters vs. Aliens), Jennifer Lewis and Jen Cody (both The Princess and the Frog) are the nominees for the Voice Acting in a Feature Production category.
The Annie Awards will be presented by the International Animated Film Society at Royce Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles in February.
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