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Kevin Hart's 'Ride Along' surprise: Here's why it topped the box office

Fast-talking security guard Ben (Kevin Hart, right) joins

Fast-talking security guard Ben (Kevin Hart, right) joins his cop soon-to-be brother-in-law James (Ice Cube) on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James' sister, in "Ride Along." Credit: Universal Pictures

The Kevin Hart vehicle "Ride Along" set a new opening record for a January release, pulling in $41.2 million over the three-day weekend, according to reports.

That's a major milestone for Hart, a comedian with a large African-American following who starred in the recent rom-com "Think Like a Man." It's also a surprisingly strong showing for what initially looked like a throwaway buddy-cop comedy.

One factor could be that "Ride Along" is a return to the kind of street-style comedies that have faded somewhat from the African-American movie market. For the past several years, Tyler Perry has been flooding the market with upscale comedies and dramedies such as "Why Did I Get Married?" and "Confessions of a Marriage Counselor," which feature mostly upscale, professional, well-educated black characters. By contrast, "Ride Along" features Ice Cube, the rapper known for known for rowdy comedies like "Barbershop" and "Friday," as a surly Atlanta cop trying to crack a dangerous case, while Hart plays a high-school security guard hoping to join the force. Universal is said to be predicting $48 million for "Ride Along" by the time Monday is through.

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