Ice Cube and Kevin Hart starred in a buddy comedy called “Ride Along.” Although the movie itself got dismal ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (18%), you can see that the overall story structure is actually fairly solid.
The basic story structure of “Ride Along” focuses on two stories. First, a tough cop’s goal is to bring an unknown gangster to justice. The second story is the hero trying to prove to the tough cop that he’s tough enough to marry the tough cop’s sister. What works in “Ride Along” is that these two plots drive the entire story from beginning to end. That gives “Ride Along” a solid story structure.
Where “Ride Along” falls apart is its individual scenes. A scene should start with an intriguing promise of conflict, the conflict itself, a problem that makes the conflict even tougher, and a resolution of some kind. Along the way the scene should also foreshadow future events or payoff earlier foreshadowing from previous scenes.
Here’s where “Ride Along” falters. In too many scenes, the conflict and the resolution are missing. In one scene, the tough cop forces the hero to make a bunch of motorcyclists leave a handicapped parking area. That’s an interesting problem and the hero wades into the situation completely outnumbered.
The problem escalates when the motorcyclists refuse to leave and more of them show up. Then the scene falls apart because there’s no foreshadowing whatsoever. The resolution is also weak where the tough cop simply wades into the motorcyclists and rescues the hero. Boring. No comedy, no action, and no foreshadowing means this scene, like most of the scenes in “Ride Along” serve no purpose in advancing the story and showing us something new and different.
When the motorcycle gang scene ends in “Ride Along,” it fails to create a cliffhanger moment of any kind. Scenes just start and stop so the whole movie seems to drag. Now consider how “Die Hard” crafts its individual scenes.
When John McClane first gets to LA to meet his wife, he’s angry that she’s using her maiden name. That foreshadows the suspense where the villain doesn’t know that John McClane’s wife, Holly, is one of the hostages. Eventually he will find out through the news reporter’s broadcast, but this creates suspense and tension as we wonder when the villain will discover Holly’s link to John McClane.
The planting of Holly’s maiden name seems trivial when first introduced, but proves critical in keeping the villain in the dark about Holly’s connection to John McClane. That’s the mark of a great scene.
Another great scene in “Die Hard” occurs when John McClane learns to scrunch his toes in the carpet to relieve tension. This trivial setup later pays off when John McClane is forced to run around barefoot while avoiding the terrorists.
Now go back to the inferior execution of scenes in “Ride Along.” There are two cops who are supposed to be the tough cop’s partners, but they later turn out to be working for the gangster the tough cop wants to take down. Yet nowhere is this information setup in an earlier scene. On moment the tough cop’s partners are helping him take down the men working for the gangster in the opening scene, and the next they’ve completely turned around to threatening the tough cop.
This abrupt change doesn’t work because “Ride Along” fails to set up this information subtly in an earlier scene.
Another failing of “Ride Along” is that the main characters don’t reveal any type of emotional vulnerability whatsoever and never reach a realization about themselves. In “Die Hard,” John McClane is trapped in a bathroom, pulling shards of glass from his bare feet when he admits he was a jerk and should have told his wife how much he loves her. That’s a crucial emotional moment that makes us like John McClane even more.
In “Ride Along,” there is no emotional moment like this. The main characters remain basically the same from start to finish, although the tough cop does grudgingly accept the hero as tough enough to protect his sister. The tough cop also mentions how he protected his sister when they were both in foster homes, but this is more of a statement than actually getting us to relive the emotions of the moment. Even worse, the hero never quite reaches a similar emotional moment.
The hero almost reaches that moment when he’s discouraged and learns that the tough cop was playing tricks on him to get him to quit. Yet it’s not quite enough to make us feel the hero’s emotional vulnerability, but it’s just enough to create a decent story structure.
“Ride Along” appears more like a rough draft than a final version where it follows the necessary story structure but fails to execute it as well as it could. Yet it does so well enough to tell a decent story enough where the movie made a profit and spawned a sequel.
That just goes to show you that if you create a decent story, you can still create a halfway decent movie. However if you don’t have any story at all, then you create a mess like “Terminator Genisys” or “Jonah Hex,” or more likely never get your screenplay turned into a movie at all.