For a big stretch of the 80’s Eddie Murphy was the hottest comedian in the movies, but at some point his movies started tanking at the box office. For most of the 90’s Adam Sandler was the hottest screen comedian but recently his movies have tanking, too. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that neither Murphy nor Sandler knows what has changed. They might have worked as hard (if not harder) on some of the later flops as they did on some of their earlier hits. The movies might not be any better or any worse. In fact, given how formulaic a lot of their hit movies were they probably aren’t better than the flops. Either way, people stopped cutting them slack at some point and they faded away.
Kevin Hart is in many ways poised to be the new Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler – the new king of comedy, the wunderkund whose stand up tours sell out and who releases hit movie after hit movie. The problem is that you can already see the late period floptastic Kevin Hart lurking around the corner. Ride Along is not a bad movie; it does what it does reasonably well. But it was only a hit because Kevin Hart is hot right now. If Kevin Hart releases a movie just like this in ten years everyone’s going to roll their eyes.
If you know Hart’s basic persona – he’s got a high pitched voice and he’s short, so most of his stand up is about the gulf between how masculine he wants to be and how masculine he really is – you can call most of the jokes in this a mile away. If you’ve seen many cop movies at all you can predict the plot and guess how evil mastermind has been getting away with it all this time. (Hint: there are some dirty cops and yes, they are hiding in plain sight.) The action is all fine, but it’s mostly just hitting the check marks on the to-do list, giving us a car chase, a gun fight in a warehouse, a big-explosion at the end.
This is a movie for teens who haven’t seen enough movies to truly grasp how cliched it is, and those teens will be a loyal audience for awhile. But then they’ll get older and they’ll get wiser, and by the time they do there might be a new Murphy or a new Sandler coming up through the ranks to displace Hart for the next generation. And there’s nothing wrong with that; in many ways that’s just the circle of life in Hollywood. But I’d like to see more out of Hart, because he really is a funny guy and I know that he can do better than this – he could be giving us something that really made use of his persona rather than wringing stale laughs out of a caricature of it. Here’s hoping he pulls that off before he’s making his own Norbit or his own Grown Ups 2.
Winner: The Cat