"Today was a good day," says Ice Cube as Atlanta Police Detective James in "Ride Along." Hip-hop fans will get the irony: The line comes from a 1993 song by the pioneering gangster rapper, here playing -- gasp! -- a lawman. Granted, Ice Cube already played a police captain in "21 Jump Street," but he delivers the line with such a broad smile that it's hard not to laugh.
That, however, is easily the funniest moment in "Ride Along," which pairs Ice Cube with the fast-talking comedian Kevin Hart as a wannabe cop named Ben. The story begins when Ben decides to prove himself worthy of marrying James' sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), by riding along with him on a routine day. It's predictable stuff -- surely you've guessed that the two will break a major case -- but it's also standard operating procedure for a buddy-cop comedy. As in "48 Hrs.," "Rush Hour" and "Lethal Weapon," the real attraction here is always the chemistry between the two stars.
Hart's springy energy and Ice Cube's deadpan snarl can be amusing, but they can't compensate for weak material. Director Tim Story, who cast Hart to good effect in 2012's "Think Like a Man," here throws him into several promising situations, but the scenes fizzle and go nowhere. Ben never surprises us: He's small, a video-game nerd and a blabbermouth who, sure enough, can't fight, can't shoot a gun and irritates people. By the time Ben finally does show us some magic (a redo of Eddie Murphy's barroom bluff in "48 Hrs."), we've been let down too many times to care.
Ice Cube, a strong presence in rowdy comedies like "Barbershop" and "Friday," seems ill-suited to this tame, toothless movie. He's mostly limited to steely-eyed reaction shots and some banal cop talk with his partners. "Ride Along" relies increasingly on its criminal underworld plot, which is, to put it mildly, pathetic. Look for a surprise appearance from a very fine actor as the mysterious kingpin Omar.
PLOT A wannabe cop hopes to impress a surly Atlanta police detective by shadowing him for a day.
RATING PG-13 (language, action, sexual themes)
CAST Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter
BOTTOM LINE Hart yaks, Cube snarls, and together they mostly shoot blanks in this unfunny action-comedy.