The combustible pairing of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube in the first “Ride Along” action comedy two years ago ignited a buddy movie franchise.
But the duo’s unmistakable chemistry is not limited to the screen. Their camaraderie was obvious when the affable pair comically entered an airport conference room, displaying as much energy on their last interview stop as they did when they first arrived in St. Louis.
While promoting the sequel, “Ride Along 2,” which opens in theaters on Friday, the two made the media rounds and were spotted all over the city – attending a Rams’ game, receiving baseball jerseys from Ozzie Smith, and sampling local delicacies.
Gregarious, charming and gracious, they engaged our group with their first impressions of Imo’s pizza, toasted ravioli and Ted Drewes’ frozen custard, asking us about the town’s signature food.
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As for the toasted ravs, Hart said: “Cube liked it. I’m more of a health nut.”
Congratulations were in order for Ice Cube, for it was the day after the announcement that his seminal rap group N.W.A. would be inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame on April 8.
He was beaming.
“It’s one of the top moments of my life. I am very happy,” he said. “After all the fighting to be legitimate, our struggles, and me leaving the group, all that we went through, and now this. Twenty-five years later, and it’s just amazing. I know that’s the go-to word these days, but it is amazing. No way I could have scripted this. It’s such an honor.”
Another fortuitous pairing was casting him in “Ride Along” two years ago with rising star Kevin Hart. The movie was a big hit, earning $154 million at the box office.
Their characters’ different personalities provided laughs aplenty in a police procedural story.
Hart played Ben Barber, a security guard and police academy candidate who wanted to marry Angela Payton, the sister of James Payton (Ice Cube), a vice detective in Atlanta. Ben is desperate for the gruff James’ approval, and rides shotgun on patrol with him one night. Ben’s annoying eager-to-please attitude and blustery incompetence gets under James’ skin.
Their fire-and-ice demeanor just clicked on screen. They won Best On-Screen Duo at the MTV Movie Awards and Nickelodeon’s Teen Choice Awards.
As for their perceptible chemistry, Ice Cube described it as “seamless.”
“We knew each other before. But now we’re friends,” Hart said.
I’ve spent real time with the guy, and the level of respect that I had for him has gone up and beyond. We want the best for each other, and that spills over into our projects.
Kevin Hart on the duo’s friendship
“I’ve spent real time with the guy, and the level of respect that I had for him has gone up and beyond. We want the best for each other, and that spills over into our projects.”
While they have a good time together, it’s also apparent that they work extremely hard.
“We are always refining the work and trying to make it better than what’s already on the page and just keep that bar up,” Ice Cube said.
They had fun on the set, too, playfully warning co-star Ken Jeong (“The Hangover”) to keep on his toes.
“We told (him), ‘We’ve got a great thing going on here. Don’t mess it up. Don’t blow this for us,’” Ice Cube said, smiling.
“We’re all so professional. We take what we’re doing seriously,” he said.
Their professionalism has resulted in successful entertainment careers. Ice Cube broke through as a songwriter-rapper in N.W.A., then as a solo artist, and now as an actor, director and producer. Hart, a longtime stand-up comedian, has become a durable movie star.
Ice Cube’s first film was the gritty Oscar-nominated “Boyz in the Hood” in 1991, and he has been a part of some very popular movies: “Friday,” “Barbershop” and “21 Jump Street,” and the sequels. He also appeared in “Three Kings,” “Anaconda” and “Are We There Yet?”
Ice Cube, 46, grew up in South Central L.A. He has been married for 23 years and has four children. His son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., played him in the acclaimed 2015 biopic “Straight Outta Compton.”
What was it like to see his son play him on screen?
“I was scared for him at first. He’s a cool kid. I thought his life would go from spending my money to being ridiculed on the Internet — ‘Don’t quit your day job,’ all that stuff, and I didn’t know if he was ready to take that chance. ... But now I think he’s got a future in this business,” he said, smiling broadly.
Hart, 36, grew up in Philadelphia. He has two children with his first wife, Torrei Hart (2003-2011), and plans to wed Eniko Parrish in August.
Hart continues to perform stand-up comedy while being a regular presence on TV and in films. In addition to “Ride Along 2” this year, he stars with “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson in “Central Intelligence” and is a voice in the animated feature “The Secret Life of Pets.”
Recent credits include “Get Hard,” “The Wedding Ringer,” “Top Five” and “Grudge Match.”
As for their latest venture, they are both enthusiastic about this second go-round, and thought the Miami scene really added a terrific vibe to the film.
“It was the best, that’s what made it. It was like another character,” Hart said.
“The movie has great ingredients — not only our story with James trying to discourage Ben from joining his line of work, but there is also this family element with his Ben’s relationship with James’ sister,” Ice Cube said. “So you combine these two great flavors of movies and it’s like action-comedy and this crazy romance that’s going on. It has so many great elements.”
In the sequel, Ben has become a police officer. He and Angela are planning their wedding. While James is not happy about it, he must deal with Ben on a professional level, who is still trying to prove himself and get in James’ good graces. A drug dealer case takes them to Miami. Wackiness ensues as they try to take down the bad guys using various undercover scenarios.
Director Tim Story returned to helm it, and others on board included screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, using characters created by Greg Coolidge.
Tika Sumpter returns as Angela and Bruce McGill is back as Lt. Brooks. But the new bad guy is Benjamin Bratt and Olivia Munn plays a Miami cop helping them out.
“We’ve had a group of new people come in with us, and they’ve all said the same thing – ‘This is the most fun that we’ve had. This has been such a good time. It didn’t even feel like work,’” Hart said.
Ice Cube also produced the film, along with his team of Will Packer, Matt Alvarez and Larry Brezner.
They had worked with Story before — he directed Ice Cube in “Barbershop” in 2002, and Hart in “Think Like a Man” in 2012 and the sequel two years later. They admire the way he works and the atmosphere he creates on the set.
The dude is so laid back. To be honest, I don’t know how he gets anything done.
Ice Cube on director Tim Story
“The dude is so laid back. To be honest, I don’t know how he gets anything done,” Ice Cube said, smiling.
“But seriously, I’ve never worked with a director who can keep that cool, laid-back flavor throughout the movie. He’s the same way every time I’ve seen him – cool, calm and collected, and he’s done some of the best movies. And he does it without ever raising his voice.”
Hart also sang the praises of Ice Cube — a man he views as a role model.
“His portfolio and what he’s done and maintained being grounded through it all. You’re looking at a guy who is not content with any level of success, and that’s something that I love. To constantly break down doors to go through new doors, I love to be a student of that. This is a guy who I’ve looked at when I first came into this business, and I’ve soaked up as much information as I could,” he said.
With the new film cementing their reputation as a popular comedy duo, don’t be surprised if there is another chapter of the series in the works. Lightning just might strike more than once.
‘Ride Along 2’
- Cast: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Tika Sumpter, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt, Sherri Shepherd
- Director: Tim Story
- Opening date: Friday, Jan. 15
- Rated PG-13
- 101 minutes