By Colin Covert
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS — Take two of America’s most popular actor/writer/producers, one a stadium-packing comedian, the other a global rap phenomenon, team them up for a rapid-fire cop comedy and what do you get?
When “Ride Along” costs $20 million to make and earns $140 million, you get a sequel. Quickly.
Kevin Hart and Ice Cube were in the Twin Cities just before Christmas to promote their latest double act, “Ride Along 2.” Cube is once again a tough, crabby police detective; Hart is his manic, screechy junior partner, and law enforcement is essentially a joke. As the stars explained while visiting the Mall of America, the point of the movie is not tackling all the ills of the world, which will tick people off. It’s out to be amusing, which might help them simmer down and deal with the things that make them angry.
Cube’s Compton rap collective N.W.A being voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame capped a huge year for him. The group’s biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” which he produced — and which starred his son, playing Cube at the start of his hip-hop fame — earned more than $200 million and scads of buzz. Still, one of the things he enjoyed most was “doing this movie with Kevin at the beginning of the year.”
“It’s been a great journey on all levels, starting in ‘Boyz in the Hood’ as an actor 25 years ago and going to the Cannes Film Festival. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, so it was a great ride on your first movie. I got bit by the bug and I’ve been churning them out ever since.”
Hart has been rising almost as long, releasing three albums and producing his BET comedy series “Real Husbands of Hollywood” en route to becoming a full-fledged star.
“I started doing comedy at 18 and I’m 36 now,” Hart said.
“Your audience have walkers now?” Cube asked.
“I’ve got a very diverse audience,” Hart squawked. “The old people laugh as much as the young people!”
Their conversation was spirited improv, start to finish, a duo act that Cube finds irresistible.
“I’ve been wanting to do a movie with Kevin for years. He had this stand-up routine a couple years back that for me took it from Earth to orbit. I was like, ‘This dude got it.’ He’s got the chops, he’s got the ‘it’ factor. I knew that if we ever had the right project, we can make magic onscreen.”
The job arrived in 2014’s “Ride Along,” with Cube returning to the kind of satirical angry cop stereotype that made him a cornerstone of the blockbuster “21 Jump Street” comedies. Hart seems tailor-made for the role of his bumbling assistant.
“And it worked,” Cube said. “There’s not much better than meeting a guy you know from afar and he’s even better than you imagined. I’ve learned a lot from him,” he added, as Hart has used social media to personally market his way to remarkable popularity.
The key to success in a multimedia career, Hart said, is staying in touch through stage work.
“Your people, that’s the best thing about live performing,” he said. “When you perform, everybody who shows up to that venue is an Ice Cube or Kevin Hart fan who followed you. They’ve grown with you.
“No matter what happens to you in this business, you always have that. That’s the power of building that brand. … Movies are great and I love them, but I would never give up the live performing for anything in the world.”
Cube finds that a good philosophy, saying his connection to the ‘hood means a lot to him because he never knows when he could wind up back there.
Both of them move from thought-provoking serious work to crowd-pleasing laughs.
Hart made a widely watched appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s webcast “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” where he related touching memories of spending all his early earnings to take care of his troubled family. Cube moved from tough rap artist to serious actor in “Trespass” and “Three Kings,” and on to light comedy in his “Barbershop” franchise. His next film, this fall’s action adventure “Humbug,” casts him as an urban Ebenezer Scrooge.
Those varied approaches, Cube said, reflect “who we are deep inside — these layers of us that might not get so much publicity or as sensationalized as the young black angry kid. Even with the N.W.A records, we tried to throw comedy in there a little bit.”
“It’s a balance, these layers. Kevin can be funny at the drop of a dime but he’s a very, very savvy businessman. He’s strategic. These are things the public might not see but if a director understands those layers in you, he’ll put them on screen.”
“I’m in this business for the long run,” Hart said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re Morgan Freeman,” Cube said, as they both burst into laughs. “You’re going to be playing God someday!”