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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S2:E11 It’s got to make other sitcoms feel sort of inadequate when Community can do an animated Christmas special and not only make us laugh uncontrollably, but also teach us something about the real “true meaning of Christmas.” I don’t see Charlie Harper pulling that off anytime soon.
Last night’s stop-motion animated Christmas episode has been popping up in the press since September and fans have been waiting all season to see what all the fuss was about. With all that hype, we could have had a mildly entertaining, cute little special that merited a sweet little smile, a sigh, and nothing more. Instead we got an episode that not only combined the ridiculous style of humor that characterizes most episodes of Community (see: Cartoon Toys with Christmas guns, Teddy Bear Chevy Chase), but also hearkens back to the old stop-motion Christmas movies we all know and love. By the time we reach Abed’s holiday conclusion, we’ve got enough warm and fuzzy to keep us going through New Year’s. Community has truly accomplished something wonderful: a stop-motion Christmas story for adults. Once again, my hat is off to you, Dan Harmon. (If you keep this awesome streak up, I’m never going to get to wear my hat.)
We’ve seen the photos that NBC has been releasing for weeks, showing Teddy Pierce, Troy Soldier, BallerAnnie, Baby Doll Shirley, Britta Bot, Jeff in the Box and Professor Duncan, the Christmas Wizard frolicking around in a snowy winter wonderland. How did our community college crew find themselves there? Well, Abed’s got the answer. Due to a repressed Christmas wish and a clear lack of holiday spirit from the gang and especially the Dean (“You may celebrate in designated holiday areas?” really?), Abed starts to see the world in stop-motion animation a la Burl Ives’ Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
To make use of his stop-motion vision, Abed dives into a song, adding Christmas lyrics to the Community theme song while dancing on cars in the parking lot until he gets tazed (see, Christmas movies for adults) by campus police. Ahh Christmas. Of course this doesn’t fly with the college, so Professor Duncan takes it upon himself to cure Abed to keep him from being kicked out of school (and to publish a lengthy research report). Abed doesn’t think it’s a delusion, and sees it as a call to find the true meaning of Christmas (he also takes a moment to clarify that they aren’t in fact, clay puppets, they’re silicone with foam bodies – good to know). This puts the whole gang in an imaginative exercise that takes them through Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas land on Planet Abed (its atmosphere is 70 percent cinnamon and it’s the most Christmasy place ever) – hence the title.
Though Duncan tries desperately to control Abed’s journey, Abed has an incredible knowledge of his imaginary Christmas land and with a song, he takes his misfit cohorts along with him on his quest for holiday truth. The gang is actually sitting in the study room as Abed’s imagination runs amuck, so Duncan comes in and out of the imagined land to check on Abed’s progress, but because it’s all Abed’s imagination Duncan’s constantly foiled by the endless supply of twists and turns Abed dreams up. Don’t worry Christmas Wizard, he’s got this.
The gang trots along the gum drop path and Abed warns them that the journey will be dark and dangerous, “like Wonka dark.” They head towards the Cave of Frozen memories, Shirley is upset that she’s a baby in Abed’s imagination. This brings up a squabble between the ladies about why they’ve each been given different Christmasland personas, and Shirley breaks the spell by calling out the session as therapy. Abed is scandalized and Duncan removes Shirley from the study room (or sends her away with his freeze wand and his Christmas Pteradactyl) because her dissent isn’t helping Abed. In a Wonka-esque twist, Abed sings Shirley off like he’s an oopma loopma and she just fell into the chocolate river.
Then, one of my favorite Abed inventions of the episode descends upon the group; humbugs. Oh yes, it's a scroogism brought to life; what a Christmas miracle. Humbugs are attracted to sarcasm (ha!) so of course, Jeff can’t manage to shut up (because he knows he’ll have to leave and he can go get laid instead, bastard) and he’s devoured by the cranky bugs. Annie takes on the singing duties, using a play on words with “presents” and “presence” and desperately seeking approval for her clever lyrical invention. See guys? I can do it too!
As the gang continues along the path, they reach a canyon where the plants produce Christmas songs instead of oxygen (can I live in Abed’s Christmas world?) but don’t worry, it won’t cost anything because they only sing public domain Christmas songs. Britta reveals herself as a total scrooge – but are you really surprised? – and reminds us all that there are just about a million conspiracies behind the Christmas story. The episode uses her as the personification of all that humbug mentality that seems to be going around everywhere – Christmas is just a commercial holiday, or Christmas is a religious hoax, blah blah blah. When they reach the Cave of Frozen memories, Abed finally (with sadness) expels her from his winter wonderland not because her overwhelming logic can’t grasp the holiday spirit, but because she tricked him into group therapy. Abed’s send off song is surprisingly touching and Britta Bot’s teary eyes are almost more than I can handle. Abed, Troy, Annie and Pierce all escape to a Christmas train where Abed admits that he has a yearly tradition with his mom – they watch Rudolph every year on December 9. Troy notes that it is December 9, but Abed won’t acknowledge it. Duncan reappears and tells Abed he found his mother’s note – she’s not coming this year. Troy and Annie realize how deeply Abed is hurt and agree to hold back Duncan so Abed can finish his holiday quest for meaning.
As Annie detaches the rest of the train, Pierce bursts out of the bathroom; he's stuck in the first train car with Abed. He’s surprisingly disarming as a little elderly bear whose feet squeak every time he steps (this serves to provide way more giggles than I should admit being a grown woman) and he admits that Christmas is sad when he’s home alone (his mother died earlier this year); for the first time all season, Pierce is actually lovable and I actually felt for the poor old guy. He helps Abed find Santa’s workshop where Abed bursts through the door like he’s going to bust some skulls, Pierce points to a random location and that’s where the present wrapped as the meaning of Christmas sits. Abed unwraps the box within a box within a box only to find that the meaning of Christmas is season 1 of LOST? He explains it’s a metaphor – “lack of payoff.” Burn. Too soon?
Duncan reappears, this time brandishing the actual apology Christmas card from Abed’s mother. He reads the message and Abed freezes in sadness. Of course, in true Community fashion, the whole gang reappears, ready to give Duncan the boot and help keep Abed’s Christmas spirit alive. Of course, being that this is Community and not an actual Christmas cartoon, they’re all brandishing “Christmas weapons” in a jollier version of last year’s modern warfare. They deliver a short and sweet message about not making Christmas about being logical, or right, or even (necessarily) religious; it’s about making one of the most dreadful times of the year one of the best times of the year and as long as they all support that delusion, they can enjoy the wonderful effects of Christmas. Aww. As they blow Duncan and his anti-Christmas mission away with their sparkly joy-filled guns, they sing a little sweet Christmas song; BallerAnnie even pirouettes her way into kicking Duncan in the face while singing about love. Kickass Christmas all the way.
This warms Abed’s heart and melts his little ice bubble. They all regain consciousness in the study room, but they’re still stop motion – ‘tis the season still! Abed thanks his Lost DVD and says he realizes that the study group is his new family. They all snuggle and watch Abed’s favorite Christmas movie together, and if you watch carefully as the end of the movie fades to black, you can see the reflection of the casts live-action selves in the television. Yes, this episode wasn’t an epic battle over chicken fingers and it took a little getting used to missing out on a bit of the physical comedy element of the show (although the animators’ ability to capture the cast’s expressions is sort of uncanny), you’d have to be a special kind of Grinch not to appreciate this wonderful little slice of Christmas comedy heaven.
Last season, NBC brought the funny back to Thursday nights (though, as far as that old timer, The Office, goes, the funny only came in the form of a mildly amused chuckle). 30 Rock continued to provide incessant giggle fits (albeit with a slightly obnoxious overdose of Jack Donaghy’s ever-present love triangle - blerg). Parks and Recreation brought the hilarious and charming Amy Poehler back into our lives and introduced us to the world’s sexiest lumberjack-turned-public-servant, Ron Swanson (bacon-wrapped swoon). However, the real game-changer last season was the addition of a little show called Community.
Now, CBS is gunning for the little show that could, pitting their mega-hit, The Big Bang Theory, up against Dan Harmon’s quirky creation. The beauty of CBS’s offensive move is that it’s forcing Community to bring out the big guns; first Betty White on the Sept. 23 season premiere and now they’re adding a stop-motion animation Christmas special. Harmon told New York Magazine, “I’d like to make a new classic,” and I have no doubt that it will be just that. Burl Ives and Rudolph may have to take a backseat this yuletide season, because there is no way this episode won’t be all kinds of awesome.
You don’t believe me, do you? Sure it’s a strange idea; it’s never been done before and it doesn’t seem to make sense for a sitcom, but that’s the beauty of Community. Nothing that happens on the show makes sense for a sitcom.
Let’s think about this. The show’s most popular episode, “Modern Warfare,” was an epic paintball showdown that turned Greendale Community College into a post-apocalyptic wasteland – and it was so hilarious that I had to lay down after watching it so I could catch my breath and let the oxygen return to my brain. Then there was the Goodfellas homage, trading cocaine for cafeteria-style chicken fingers, and the Valentine’s Day episode that turned the cast into an even stranger version of gang from the teen classic, The Breakfast Club. Of course, Danny Pudi’s Abed, a walking film encyclopedia and all-around loveable weirdo, keeps it all on track with his infinite movie knowledge.
In other words, have a little faith. All the elements really come together for this under-watched comedy. The cast is pretty much golden – especially Ken Jeong as the crooked Spanish professor, Señor Chang, and Donald Glover as the empty-headed former prom king, Troy. The crew was built for comedy, and if that’s not enough, just think about cute they’ll all look in cartoon-form on the Christmas episode.
I’m hoping America grows tired of The Big Bang Theory’s nerd-clan and turns to Thursday night’s true hero, because when it comes to turning classics into new television, Dan Harmon and friends knock it out of the community college every time.
Source: New York Magazine