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Review: Kevin Hart makes second ‘Ride Along’ worthwhile

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Ride Along 2” rides along on whether or not Kevin Hart’s brand of funny works for you.

This is a Kevin Hart vehicle through and through, and director Tim Story — working with Hart a fourth time, after the first “Ride Along” and two “Think Like a Man” movies — knows it’s best to just wind him up and let him go.

It’s a good role for Hart. As Ben Barber, a nerdy gamer who’s now a probationary officer with the Atlanta police department, Hart is wide-eyed, sincere and always aiming to please. There’s nothing cynical or sarcastic about him, and his optimistic worldview accentuates the best in Hart’s manic, fast-talking style.

Not that “Ride Along 2” is an in-depth character study. It’s a formulaic action buddy comedy, with Ice Cube’s James Payton playing the straight man foil to Hart’s erratic, but well-meaning Barber. But Hart lets it rip, Cube flashes his signature Ice Cube scowl, and there’s enough gas left in this tank to take another spin around the block with the self-proclaimed “brothers-in-law.”

Barber and Payton head down to Miami to bust a drug dealer with ties to Atlanta, but really, does any of that matter? The Miami backdrop provides the pair with a sunny change of scenery and an excuse to parade some bikinis across the screen, and for Hart to wear linen outfits capped off with straw fedoras.

Olivia Munn plays a Miami police officer, Ken Jeong is a hacker and Benjamin Bratt is a shady politician and drug dealer, rounding out the racially diverse cast. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who co-wrote the first “Ride Along” in 2014, provide just enough structure to keep things moving along.

But really, it’s all about Hart, who has no problem making himself the butt of every joke. Here he gets beaten up by a child, falls into a chicken coop, gets mocked for his size and all sorts of other indignities and humiliations. But he always comes out with a smile and a positive attitude.

Barber is devoted to his fiance (he’s engaged to Payton’s sister, played by Tika Sumpter), whom he’s marrying in a matter of days, and he truly cares about the details of his forthcoming wedding. Men, in real life and in the movies, are often dismissive of the wedding planning process, but Barber is truly into the whole thing — “I have a vision for my wedding!” he boasts — which speaks to the wholesome heart at the center of his character. As does the way he’s constantly barking “James!” seeking the approval of his partner and brother-in-law to be.

Still, Hart has yet to find the part that’s going to elevate him to the next level of Hollywood stardom. Last year’s “Get Hard” and “The Wedding Ringer” were backward steps for the comedian, not allowing him to stretch his persona or illustrate the kind of hustle and drive that has made him a self-propelled comic star. Hart is still seeking out his “Truman Show,” the role that will break him out of his comfort zone and make Hollywood take him more seriously.

But “Ride Along 2” does its job. “Ride Along” was a surprise hit, earning $135 million and becoming Ice Cube and Kevin Hart’s biggest starring vehicle. “Ride Along 2” is essentially more of the same, and Hart is its driving force. Ride with it.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘Ride Along 2’

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content, language and some drug material

Running time: 101 minutes