The buddy-cop concept has propelled dozens of crime capers, like "Lethal Weapon," "Tango and Cash," "Midnight Run," "Starsky and Hutch," "Bad Boys" and last summer's gender-bender "The Heat." So there's not much originality in teaming motor-mouthed comedian Kevin Hart with growling, grimacing rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube.
Violent video-game obsessed Ben Barber (Hart) is an eager high- school security guard who becomes a cadet at the Atlanta Police Academy. He wants to marry Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter), who has a very protective older brother, James (Ice Cube), a surly veteran cop who has taken an immediate dislike to diminutive Ben, whom he refers to as "a chromosome away from being a midget." To gain James' approval, Ben agrees to accompany him on the titular day-long ride-along so he can experience just how dangerous the street can be. What Ben doesn't know is that James and his partners, Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen), have arranged a series of encounters to scare and shame Ben. They predictably banter and bicker until they eventually bond when they unexpectedly take off in pursuit of a shadowy crime kingpin known as Omar (Laurence Fishburne), who is embroiled in a deadly arms deal.
Working from a weak, cobbled-together script, credited to a quartet of screenwriters -- Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi -- director Tim Story ("Think Like a Man," "Barbershop") routinely telegraphs everything in advance as the formulaic plot thickens, while cinematographer Larry Blanford's camera seems to wobble uncontrollably.
But Hart's shtick is undeniably appealing and amusing; it's a shame that he wasn't allowed to improvise more diversions. Ice Cube serves as his humorless, suitably surly straight-man, refusing to commandeer a Prius as a chase car, snatching a snazzy red pickup truck instead. It's a one-note macho role, but he undeniably fills the pairing bill, infuriating his short-tempered, by-the-books lieutenant (Bruce McGill).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Ride Along" is a flimsy 5, but its recent box-office clout already has ignited plans for a crowd-pleasing sequel.