Review: Central Intelligence
PLOT: After reuniting with a bullied kid from high school, a once popular man finds that his life isn’t what he was hoping for. Things get really complicated when the one time overweight teen from his past is now a brick wall of a CIA agent bringing a little bit of trouble to his old friend.
REVIEW: Sometimes you sit back and watch a trailer and you feel like you’ve seen the entire film; even if you didn’t want to. That was my original reaction to the previews for CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE. While it certainly isn’t a great film - perhaps even a terribly good one - the new action comedy has a couple of things that work. The key ingredient here is the surprising chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Although it’s Johnson himself that seems to be having the best time wearing My Little Pony t-shirts and sporting a fanny pack, the two are clearly enjoying the experience. Johnson however is having the most fun with the silly material and it shows. It also helps to add a few familiar faces in the mix including Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan, Jason Bateman and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul. There is another fun cameo as well that I won’t spoil here.
We first meet Calvin (Hart) and Bob (Johnson) at an assembly in high school. This is the scene that you’ve probably watched in the trailer, and it’s the least amusing moment in the entire film. So yes, Bob was a goofy overweight teen dancing in a gym shower and Calvin was the most popular student at his school who happens to do something nice for the awkward mess up. Years later, Bob shows up in Calvin’s life making a random Facebook friend request. The two decide to meet and soon enough, Calvin - who is now an accountant - discovers that the kid everybody bullied is a CIA agent. Which side of the law he's on however isn’t for certain. Suddenly Calvin is running from gun fights and facing off against one of Bob’s fellow agents, Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan). There is danger and intrigue with a ton of jokes as we try and figure out who really is the bad guy.
Let’s start off with the good. Who knew that Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart would work so well together? Sure, the reason they meet up and the bizarre hero worship of Bob is pretty ridiculous, and the plot is rarely even remotely original. Still, the two are able to bring the humor of the situation front and center. The oddball choices Johnson makes to create such a dimwit CIA agent are downright endearing. While Johnson excels at both the comedic moments and the super-charged action, Hart mainly plays for the funny. It was a smart move to make the comedic actor the straight man and let the action star revel in the crazy shenanigans. Had the filmmakers not put these two together, there wouldn’t be nearly as many laughs as they happened to bring.
As far as the script goes, all of this feels very familiar. Written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber, this is a concept that has been done repeatedly. Not to say that it’s all bad, even if they keep it generally safe with a PG-13 rating. However, they try hard to add a bit of mystery to it and it never really works. A couple of reveals happen that may shock one or two, but ultimately it’s a generic story. Everybody is looking for a few codes that could be a threat to our country or whatever. They try and keep the who and what a mystery, but ultimately the story is just a way to throw the two leads some crazy dialogue and get the action moving. There is nothing special about how they get to the climax and why.
Thankfully director Rawson Marshall Thurber manages to occasionally shift into high gear when it comes to action. Every so ofter a decent set piece happens, and it sometimes works. Again, the predictable nature of the film tends to lesson the thrills, but you have a couple of fun moments that entertain. However, after a ton of bullets fly with villains who can’t seem to aim all that well, you still ultimately have a fun pairing of the two leads. As far as Amy Ryan is concerned, she does the serious heavy thing rather well. And then there is Jason Bateman who manages to get one of the best laughs in the movie… even if it’s kind of cruel. That said, you have a strong cast that manages to bring a snicker or two in the middle of it all.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE is slightly better than what you may expect. The opening sequence worked about as well as it did in the trailer, which for me is not at all. However, once Hart and Johnson join up they bring as much fun as they can to make it worthwhile. The humor works when the two are together, even when the story gets a little predictable and dull. Yet you can almost always count on Johnson to liven things up a bit. His little expressions and his love of pop culture references are all very clever. If you are looking for a harmless action comedy, you could do worse than this. Just don’t expect anything other than a few random laughs thanks to inspired casting.
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