Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the king of his high school: Lettering in various sports, always the lead in school plays, homecoming king and voted Most Likely to Succeed. He even had a cool nickname: The Golden Jet. On the other side of the popularity scale was Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson). Overweight, with no friends and the target of bullies like Trevor (Jason Bateman) and his gang, Robbie’s only claim to fame was being thrown naked into the gym during the year end assembly in front of the entire student body. The only person nice to him that day was Calvin who gave Robbie his letterman jacket to cover up. Twenty years later, Calvin is married to his high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet). Calvin is an accountant and feels like his life since high school has been a waste so he doesn’t want to go with Maggie to their 20 year high school reunion. Calvin receives a Facebook friend request from someone named Bob Stone who turns out to be Robbie Weirdicht. He wants to meet with Calvin for a few beers and talk over old times. Calvin is shocked to see Robbie is muscular and strong as an ox. He is also surprised to see his formerly fat and timid school mate take down four bullies who want to start some trouble at the bar. After they leave the bar, Bob asks Calvin to go online and look over some payroll issues he’s having from his previous job. Calvin notices it isn’t payroll information but what looks like an auction of some sort. Suddenly several security warnings pop up and Bob “accidently” spill a beer on Calvin’s laptop, shorting it out. The next day, CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) shows up and informs Calvin that Bob is a mentally unstable former agent that killed his partner Phil (Aaron Paul) and stole codes for all of America’s spy satellites. The auction site Calvin went to, and informed the CIA of his location, is where Bob is selling the codes to the highest bidder which will blind US intelligence of terrorist activities. Bob shows up at Calvin’s office and explains a terrorist named the Black Badger is responsible for killing his partner and stealing the codes and Bob needs Calvin’s help to clear his name and keep the codes out of dangerous hands. Calvin wants nothing to do with Bob or the CIA but circumstances on both sides work against him.
I didn’t have much hope that “Central Intelligence” would be funny or entertaining. It seems like Kevin Hart has played this “fish out of water” role in several of his movies. Dwayne Johnson is the latest king of big, dumb action movies. Putting them together in familiar roles may make great marketing sense didn’t exactly scream “quality entertainment ahead.” Fortunately, I was wrong as “Central Intelligence,” while not a smart comedic action film, does manage to find enough humor in the chemistry between its lead actors to overcome some dead spots and a plot that telegraphs many of its moves well in advance.
If you are hoping to be surprised by the events of “Central Intelligence” you are going to be disappointed. A key plot twist is telegraphed well in advance simply because of who is cast in a particular role. The story follows a conventional line that finds our heroes reluctantly thrown together, working toward a common goal, pulled apart by mistrust then reunited in triumph. Anyone considering that to be spoilers must have been in a cave and not watched a movie in the last 50 years. Practically every buddy comedy (not to mention romantic comedy and other films) has followed a very similar path. I can’t blame director and writer Rawson Marshall Thurber and writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen for keeping things simple. They aren’t trying to recreate the art form; they are trying to crank out a basic Hollywood action comedy. Since they have two of the biggest moneymakers in each of those genres working together it makes sense to do what’s worked in the past.
The other aspects of the story like Calvin not wanting to go to the class reunion, his feeling like a failure and his mildly troubled marriage tend to bog down the parts of the movie we are actually interested in, specifically the spy stuff. I’m not sure why film makers feel the need to humanize everyone in stories like these with the more mundane aspects of life and family. If we wanted to watch a family drama we’d tune in Lifetime or OWN on cable. Keep the focus on the action and adventure and leave the emotions to the soap operas.
Half the script seems to have been improvised on set by Kevin Hart. Several of his scenes, mostly involving him trying to talk his way out of the mess he finds himself, are just Hart firing off various lists or giving reasons things are not as they seem. Hart is gifted with a motor mouth and a quick wit so some of these scenes actually work. Sadly, others feel like they drag on far too long and aren’t that funny. These are the dead spots that threaten to derail the film. Fortunately these scenes are brief and are quickly replaced by far more interesting material.
Many of the bigger laughs come from the very physical nature of Dwayne Johnson. His character is for part of the film a walking joke. He wears a unicorn t-shirt and a fanny pack, both of which he is very proud. This is juxtaposed with Johnson’s strength and size in the fight scene early in the film where Bob takes on four tough guys at the bar. Johnson towers over Hart and that size difference is played up frequently, such as when Johnson is cradling Hart like a baby. The film probably depends too much on the physical difference between its two stars but that dichotomy frequently works.
“Central Intelligence” is rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language. There are some mildly crude jokes scattered through the film but none are particularly memorable. We see the bare backside of the body double playing the fat version of Dwayne Johnson’s character (Johnson’s face is digitally stitched on to the other body). There are numerous gunfights and fist fights throughout the film. One scene shows Johnson’s broken finger after he is tortured for information by the CIA. There is very little blood and only a small amount of gore at the very end of the film. Foul language is relatively mild but frequent.
When I go to a comedy that, based on the trailer, should be funny, I often enter the theatre primed to laugh and expecting a good time. Preparing to watch “Central Intelligence” I told myself to tamp the feeling down and accept the film for what it is, not what I expect it to be. I was surprised to find it was what I expected it to be: Not the most original action comedy in the world but with enough humor and stunts to keep the experience from becoming a bore. That’s really all I could ask for.
“Central Intelligence” gets four stars out of five.
This week there are four new films including a sequel long expected and finally here. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Free State of Jones—
Independence Day: Resurgence—
The Neon Demon—
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