Having proven its mettle at the US box office, today sees the UK release of the Kevin Hart and Ice Cube vehicle, Ride Along (pun not only intended, but grasped for).
I sat down this week to speak with Will Packer and Tim Story, the film’s producer and director. Story is likely best known in this parish for his Fantastic Four films, and I did slip in a reference to those. Mainly though, I wanted to find out how Ride Along came along, how different it was originally intended to be, and what the plans for the next film are.
One point of interest, I think, is how the race of the lead characters influenced plot decisions and vice versa. Read between the lines and you’ll see how Hollywood today thinks about including interracial romances.
Here’s the full text of our conversation. I do spoil one of the best jokes, I’m afraid. But just one. I’ll give you a SPOILER ALERT just ahead of that.
Will Packer: How you doing, bro?
Brendon Connelly: I’m doing well. How are you both doing?
Tim Story: Very well.
WP: I’m doing good. I’m happy to be in the UK, talking about a movie we’re proud of. Good times.
BC: Have you been here a lot before?
WP: I’ve never been. It’s my first time in the country.
BC: Tim, you’ve definitely been here before. You smashed it up. You broke London.
TS: This is maybe my third time. But we put it back together.
WP: You destroyed London! How do the British feel about that?
BC: I think that when JJ Abrams came back and did it again, that was too far. And he didn’t put it back together.
TS: But it was waaaay in the future.
BC: Great, so we’ve got that to look forward to.
WP: Everybody wants to destroy London. But I don’t, for the record. Let your readers know.
BC: You made a mess of Atlanta, though.
TS: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
BC: Now, in your opening credits we see there was a story and a screenplay by Greg [Coolidge] and then Phil [Hay] and Matt [Manfredi] came on. I don’t know at what point you came on and what shape it was in.
TS: The writers that worked with me were Phil and Matt. When we came on board the script was much darker than it is now. We basically tailored it for Kevin specifically, and also Cube in the same light. We made it a pure comedy as opposed to… it was a darker film before we got our hands on it. But we still tried to keep the underlying story, make it accessible and keep in grounded, in terms of having true stakes and a real crime going on.
BC: Kevin’s personality is shot through this thing now. He runs through its blood. Can you quantify the influence that putting Kevin in this film had?
TS: We’ve done films with Kevin and we know what makes him funny. All of the instances where Cube specifically took Kevin to all of these incidents, we call them 126s in the movie, these embarrassing situations, we brought them to the project. Before then it was so specific in “We’re going to make him look silly, we’re going to take him to all of these comedic moments.” Once you put Kevin with a biker or the scene in the strip club, we knew moments like that would be perfect for Kevin.
BC: I understand that right up to two weeks before Beverly Hills Cop went into production they were going to have Sylvester Stallone in that and not Eddie Murphy, which must be one of the biggest transformations of all time. When Greg’s story was first put together, who was this character that Kevin has taken over?
WP: They weren’t sure who. It was a white guy, though. It was going to be Ice Cube and a white guy. It wasn’t necessarily going to involve a romance with the sister at that time, though. There was a different dynamic there but it was going to be that kind of salt and pepper combination. The sister aspect got added in.
I remember listening to a story, I think it was Greg on how it was all based on his personal experiences. He brought that in. Prior to that I don’t know why the younger cop was going to be trying to impress the older cop. Greg had a real life situation where he turned up to pick up his girlfriend. She said “You’re going to meet my parents” and he said, “Great. When?” and she said ‘Right now. They’re inside.” It was a horrific experience for him and he brought some of that to the page. I know that once it became about the sister, it opened things up for us to have an African American actor just because of the whole family dynamic.
Timing is everything in Hollywood. This is a script that had been around for a while and you never know which shape or direction a film will take. You brought up a classic example with Beverly Hills Cop. Well, this film had been around for ten years and it hadn’t been able to get made. The timing just wasn’t right. And now, it actually came together very very quickly. From the time I took it to Tim and he took it to Kevin to we actually shot the film, it probably happened from start to finish, over the course of just six months. That’s from the time we came on board until the film was done and in the can and that’s an extremely, extremely short window for a Hollywood film.
BC: That’s a fairy tale, almost.
TS: Oh, for it to happen like that and, on the side of that, we did our script adjustments. To do all of that in six months and have it in the can is unheard of.
BC: You must have been burned out at the end of that.
TS: What’s weird is that I wasn’t. It was one of those situations where everything just flowed and it flowing like it did… there’s a time when things happen because they’re supposed to and this was one of those moments.
BC: And it’s like the bit with the bullet hole in the leg where he’s coasting on adrenalin.
TS: Pretty much. You’re just up and you’re just doing it. We had so much fun it wasn’t work to us.
BC: So when you’ve got Phil and Matt in to work with you, what was your mission at that point? What was it you wanted to get right or inject into it?
TS: We had a few ideas that came up during that writing process. One was having Kevin’s character want to be a cop. Obviously, as Will said, we had the sister aspect to weave in now. And, honestly, without making it silly, we wanted to make it fun. The script before that was more of a drama than it was a comedy and we just wanted to make it fun because we knew the sensibilities of these two actors together should make you laugh. Not to the point where it’s cartoonish, campy or slapstick but at the same time, more of a fun ride.
BC: I watched the film in a very small screening room with a bunch of my colleagues from Germany and [SPOILER ALERT] when Cube has his line “Today was a good day,” they didn’t know… they’d didn’t get it, so I was on my own. [END SPOILER] But in the states, that must be huge, that must be the moment, right?
TS: Oh, it gets claps. Everybody knows exactly what we’re doing. That’s one of the coolest moments to watch with an American audience.
BC: I almost want to get on a plane and go and see what happens.
TS: I would say it’s worth it. They really have a good time with that part.
BC: I don’t know how much you’re at liberty to discuss it but things are going fast now and the studio want another one and I came out of the first one scratching my head thinking “Well, what are they going to do?” You guys have got a real problem now. Where do you go?
TS: Not a problem, an opportunity.
WP: It’s a really good problem. A champagne problem.
TS: We’ve already got the script really, really close to being done. We’re waiting on a rewrite that’s coming in, hopefully, in just the next couple of weeks. It’s a great idea. We take the boys from Atlanta to Miami and back to Atlanta. We’re excited.
BC: And is the title still relevant? Is the concept of a Ride Along still relevant?
TS: Yes it is.
WP: Just you wait.
BC: When do you think we’ll be seeing this?
WP: That’s a good question. We’re definitely shooting this year.
BC: You’ve got some real action in this film. Can you talk to me about the way you talked to your second unit and what you think are the components of a good action scene?
TS: Here’s what’s funny – we didn’t have a second unit on this movie. There’s a section of the car chase at the beginning that we shot later but all of the action in the rest of the movie, we shot without a second unit, the A unit did everything.
I’m always one that when it comes to doing action, especially action inside of a comedy, you want to be sure that the action wants to be respectable not impressive. It’s one of those things where I want to action to match the rest of the film. Sometimes you can get into a moment where you want to show “Look what I can do” and go beyond what the film needs. When it came to us doing the action, especially outside of that car chase, we wanted to make character based. I like to call it Indiana Jones action. There was always stuff with him that didn’t go right and that’s what we tried to keep, at the same time as making it real and keeping the stakes high. Action doesn’t always need to be beyond beyond.
BC: It was pretty big.
TS: It was pretty big. But I think it was appropriate to what the guys were going through. Even at the end with the big fight inside the apartment, that made sense for what the movie was. We came right on back to his home.
BC: I was really worried for his TV set.
WP: You should be worried. The warranty is not going to cover that.
BC: Now, Britain’s a very different place to the states. Our police are so different. We look at these films and they might seem a little unbelievable. But how realistic are Cube’s attitudes in this film? Are you trying to satirise this stuff, are you trying to comment on it in any way?
TS: I’m trying to be fairly straightforward. I don’t think a cop’s normal day goes like this movie but so many of these situations, particularly with the stuff we researched in doing the 126s, having to ask somebody to move out of a parking space and all of these things, they can happen. I don’t know that you have shootout, blow up a warehouse and walk away from it but it is Hollywood and you do have to make things entertaining. I don’t think we’re so far off from reality but we do indulge a little.
WP: Good escapism.
BC: Give the audience a Friday night out.
WP: Tim does a good job keeping it grounded, though, with the human element.
BC: A balance.
WP: There’s got to be. That’s why the film resonates with audiences. They know it’s fun, it’s escapism, this is not your every day life, but at the same time, it’s not so fanciful that you can’t connect with the characters.
BC: When the film seems to have a moral code it seems to be very interested in family, and the couple’s relationship is portrayed in a way that values it. There’s a dimension that’s very sweet. It’s about love in a family.
TS: One of the biggest things I loved about this movie was that, at the end of the day, it’s very accessible. We’ve all had to try and impress somebody, especially when you get into a relationship. For all of the guns and the action there’s a heart to it and that’s “Is anybody good enough for my sister?” That’s the question it comes back down to.
BC: Had you not been going on to do another one of these, directly, Tim, what do you want to get to? What’s your burning passion?
TS: Good question. As I’ve shown, I like several different genres. I’d love to get back to some special effects at some point but I must admit that I’ve loved to make these personal stories, movies like Think Like a Man and Barbershop and I want to get back to more of those.
BC: Thanks, guys.
Ride Along is in UK cinemas now. It can’t possibly do as well as it did in the US, but I’m pretty sure they’ve still got a hit on their hands.