PG-13, 107 mins.
2016, PG-13, 107 mins.
Dwayne Johnson as Bob Stone / Kevin Hart as Calvin / Danielle Nicolet as Maggie / Bobby Brown as Gooch Coochie / Megan Park as Lexi / Timothy John Smith as Agent Nick Green
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber / Written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and Rawson Marshall Thurber
The new action buddy comedy CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE is proof positive that if you headline these genre efforts with just the right “buddies” that it can easily overcome most of their inherent faults.
a perplexing three-way cocktail of TWINS, MIDNIGHT RUN, and SPY,
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE gets a remarkably amount of mileage out of lead
actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, the latter displaying some atypical
performance shrewdness in essentially playing the straight man to all of
his co-star’s man-child tomfoolery.
The plot developments in this film are as nutty as a proverbial
fruitcake, but The Rock and Hart create a fully credible odd couple
relationship in it. That, and for a preposterously silly action comedy, CENTRAL
INTELLIGENCE does manage – with intermediate success - to have a serious
and reflective undertone about how past trauma fundamentally alters a person.
on Hart himself stakes a claim in this film that he will not be annoyingly
reprising the same stock Kevin Hart-ian character that he has paraded around
in one witless RIDE ALONG film after another.
If anything, he’s aggressively playing against his hyperactive
motor-mouthed type and instead is uncharacteristically inhabiting the role
of a more muted, reserved, and soft tempered everyman.
He plays Calvin, a happily married, but unhappily employed
accountant that, twenty years ago, was a hotshot and promising athlete
that was the talk of his school. The film opens with a flashback to the mid 1990’s as we see
Calvin at the height of his popularity, but another fellow classmate is
the constant butt of insidious bullying…mostly because of his chronic
obesity. Robbie (Dwayne
Johnson) is so out of shape and unloved that he's the constant target of
jock hatred, which culminates in him being the butt of a painfully
humiliating prank perpetrated in front of hundreds of his classmates
during a pep rally. The kind
soul that is Calvin momentarily helps the emotionally devastated Robbie,
but he flees the school, never to be heard from again.
to the present and Calvin is facing pressure from his wife (Danielle
Nicolet) to attend their 20th high school reunion.
On the eve of the event Calvin receives a Facebook friend request
from Robbie (now living under a different name) and agrees to meet him for
coffee. Calvin is astonished
when he hooks back up with Robbie, seeing as he looks an awfully lot like
a hulked out Dwayne Johnson and not the unhealthily chubby teenager that
he once defended. Their re-acquaintance
is cut short, though, when a federal agent (a somewhat squandered Amy Ryan) shows up at
Calvin’s door the following morning to inform him that Robbie is –
yup! – a dangerously lethal rogue CIA agent that has killed his partner
and stolen some precious intel. Robbie,
on the other hand, pleads with his new BFF that he’s the one being
framed and now must desperately try to clear his name and reputation.
Taking Calvin along of a dangerous mission of redemption, Robbie tries to
prove his innocence while evading the CIA at every turn.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE coasts by on how well Johnson and Hart display ample
and palpable on-screen chemistry throughout.
It’s one of those increasingly rare cases in a mainstream buddy
action comedy where the main stars appear to be having great fun together
and enjoy sharing time on screen, without one trying to shamelessly usurp
dominance over the other. Part
of the subtle comic brilliance of their pairing – aside from their
obvious and laughable size differences – is the compelling bait and
switch personality approach to these two characters.
Going in, I was fully expecting Hart to be on full camera mugging
histrionic mode with Johnson playing dutiful support. It couldn't be anymore different, seeing as it’s Johnson
himself that is set up as the spirited goofball scoring most of the verbal
zingers. That performance dynamic greatly assists the overall impact
and comic momentum of CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, especially when the film
teeters down some truly nonsensical plot developments later on.
a level of bone crunching action, The Rock is certainly functioning on
pure autopilot (the film’s violence is of the laughably bloodless PG-13 variety), but it’s Robbie’s infectious wide eye
personality that makes him such a winning presence in CENTRAL
INTELLIGENCE. Johnson plays
him with the precocious mentality of child with the physical adult brawn and lethality of a runaway
bulldozer. Oh, and Robbie likes SIXTEEN CANDLES (a lot), unicorns (a lot) and
despises bullies with a passion for obvious reasons (a lot).
Johnson has always had an affinity for comedy and action (his
resume is positively peppered with multiple entries in both genres), but
here he really hits his performance stride playing his “Jason Bourne in
jorts” as such an endlessly agreeable man of limitless decency…that
can also kill you in a thousand different ways.
The charming 44-year-old actor is exceptionally well paired with
Hart, who shows a bit more comedic range this go around than what we’re
accustomed to. Many of the
laughs in the film come at the expense of Calvin’s incredulous reactions
to the madness that's surrounding him.
Watch one remarkably sly bit of physical comedy, for instance, when Hart speed
walks away from a car that’s about to explode.
He’s not in scenery chewing mode here.
His overall sedateness at times is infectiously hilarious.
That, and Hart seems to be playing an actual human being this time
with relatable insecurities and past regrets and not a bubbling cartoon
character that screams and falls on cue.
overall plot of CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE – pitting a three way cat and mouse
chase between the CIA, Robbie/Calvin, and the enigmatic and dangerous
villain known only as “The Black Badger” – is pure cornball
nonsense, highlighted by the reveal of the identity of the villain in
question that’s telegraphed largely because of the appearance of one
well known actor (which I will not reveal) and the “Law of Economy of
Characters” (a principle that implies that film budgets make it
impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters played by big
name actors, thereby meaning that a seemingly throwaway character played
by a well known actor will not be casually discarded, leading him to be
the revealed “mystery antagonist”).
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE fumbles a bit stylistically with the action
beats, relying on too much editorial overkill (granted, there’s two
ingenious moments – one involving a banana and the other an ink toner
cartridge from a photo copier – that are inspired).
The final act of the film feels particularly protracted (it runs about ten minutes too long for its own good) and the story’s overall message regarding the social calamity of bullying is sometimes confused (the film sure thinks its “funny” superimposing the mug of a ripped and carved-out-of-granite specimen like The Rock over an overweight extra’s body for comedic effect, only then to use this shoddy CGI effect to milk sentimental points in the character’s favor). Yet, despite all of its foibles, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE was a fairly nice surprise in subverting my expectations going in. The film gives Kevin Hart a new comedic lease on life, especially coming on the heels of way, way too many witless and moronic buddy action comedies (he seems to mistakenly think that quantity of films equals quality) and fully cements why Dwayne Johnson is both a juggernaut action star force as well as a remarkably sincere and endearing actor that can tickle funny bones...when he’s not breaking the other bones of evil doers. That’s a lethal combination.