For the moment, Ice Cube is surrounded by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers.
They’re not sure what to make of him, exactly, until Cube – a rapper who once helped popularize a song disparaging law enforcement – gestures at comedian Kevin Hart.
“Check his pockets, he smell like weed,” Cube quips. All six cops burst into laughter.
It’s a Tuesday night in December at Regal Stonecrest in Ballantyne, where the star-struck officers are guests of honor at a private advance screening of the new buddy-cop comedy “Ride Along 2,” which features Cube and Hart as star-crossed partners and opens nationwide Jan. 15.
A few hours earlier, the actors were hanging out with Cam Newton at Harding University High School, where the Carolina Panthers quarterback had presented a $7,500 check for a new weight room as part of his charitable foundation’s “Santa Cam Surprise Sleigh” event.
And the following morning, Cube and Hart would hop on a jet to Orlando, the next stop on a five-city late-fall press tour to promote the sequel to the $135-million-grossing original from two years ago.
This kind of thing happens pretty close to never around here. (The last major star to visit Charlotte as part of a studio-sanctioned press tour was Will Smith, who stopped by the Observer newsroom in 2008.)
The duo says the movie is worth the time, though, and that they want to continue making “Ride Along” sequels. So here they are.
“We’re not on the phone, you’re not talking to representatives. You’ve got us in the flesh – here,” Hart says. “We’re going to beat up the streets because we want to show people how passionate we are about this project. What better way to do it than in person?”
“Ride Along 2” (rated PG-13) continues the screwball adventures of seasoned cop James (Cube) and his soon-to-be brother-in-law/rookie cop Ben (Hart), who are tasked with taking down a drug dealer in Miami while also trying to get along as unlikely partners.
But while they’re often cutting each other off in the film, in real life, the two men spend plenty of time cutting each other up.
Listen to the two as they wait (in the VIP Room at Charlotte’s Wilson Air Center) for their private flight to Orlando:
Hart, after being asked how real police officers have responded to “Ride Along 2”: “You know your movie’s good if a police officer asks for a picture afterwards.”
Cube: “It’s just real cool to have law enforcement happy to see you and not the other way around.”
Hart, on what types of training they went through to get ready for the movie: “Cube probably got a bunch of weapons at his house so I don’t think he needs any training.”
Cube: “Kevin works out wherever and whenever he can. He was doing push-ups in the lobby. He don’t need no movie to work out. He’s addicted to it.”
Hart: “It’s a lifestyle, man. It’s a mindset. … At the end of the day, we’re on the big screen. We don’t want to be on the big screen looking crazy, so we take care of ourselves before in order to give our fans what they want. Me being a sex symbol is something that I’ve grown with and now I’m at a point where I understand how women feel. Because when they see me, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, there he is!’ Now Cube isn’t really into that anymore. Cube used to be. But Cube … Cube, what are you now? 72? 68? High 60s. (Editor’s note: Cube’s 46; Hart’s 36.) The point that I’m making is, he doesn’t care about that stuff anymore. You saw the explosions in the movie? I’m the one jumping through those explosions – you know, coming out through fire with nothing wrong.”
Cube, on their rapport: “We feel like we’ve known each other since high school. It’s uncanny. We could take down the kingpin together if we had to.”
Hart: “If we had to. We could do it.”
Cube: “Just give us a gun and a badge and we’ll figure it out.”