Central Intelligence (2016) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, Jason Bateman
Small role: Kumail Nanjani, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Melissa McCarthy
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Review published June 21, 2016
Central Intelligence is the kind of film I find hard to grade, as it is one that is consummately watchable, and yet it also isn't really what I would call a truly good movie. I suppose the same can be said for most buddy-action movies, so your mileage is certainly going to vary on how much you expect from such a formula endeavor. It's amusing in moments, but not all the way through, but somehow, the laughs happen at close enough intervals to keep its head above water as a comedy.
The storyline starts in 1996. A young, CG-enhanced version of Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Furious 7) plays overweight and geeky misfit Robbie Weirdicht, the frequent target of ridicule by the bullies in his high school. By contrast, the most popular kid in school, Calvin Joyner (Hart, The Wedding Ringer) , is the kind of most-likely-to-succeed guy who excels in school in all the ways Robbie does not, but bestows an act of kindness on the pudgy kid during a particularly humiliating prank that exposes him, sans clothing, in front of his entire student class at an assembly. Fast-forward to today, approaching the day of their 20th high school reunion, and mid-level accountant Calvin, who feels he peaked in his teenage years, is adamant that he will not go, protesting to his wife (Nicolet, Loaded Weapon 1), his high school sweetheart, that he can't face up to feeling like a disappointment. She suggests a marriage counselor to work all this out.
That's when Calvin gets a Facebook friend request from out of the blue by someone he thinks is a stranger named Bob, but ends up being Robbie, now a hunk, rippling with muscles, even though he seems the same goofy kid inside, and who has spent two decades idolizing the closest thing he ever felt to having a friend due to one small, selfless act (the movie hints at but stops just short of replicating The D-Train in this regard). The two catch up on old times, but Calvin is soon confused with being Bob's friend by CIA agents looking to arrest him, accusing him going rogue from their agency and in secretly being the notorious international criminal known as the Black Badger, looking to sell top-secret information regarding U.S. government satellites to bad guys.
Trying to defy some expectation, director and co-scripter Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're the Millers, Dodgeball) makes Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson the zany crackpot and Kevin Hart more the straight-laced and responsible one in this duo, though both get their chance for laughs. Of the two, it's Johnson who manages to come out ahead, going full bore into the role in a way that feels like something refreshing and new. He's loveable, but also has an undercurrent of being somewhat off of his rocker (he's obsessed with unicorns and the movie Sixteen Candles), such that doubt begins to creep in as to whether Bob is as friendly as he claims, or if he's become a needy and off-kilter sociopath who has gone astray. Hart is funny enough, so fans of his won't mind, but we've seen him play the timid sidekick to a bad-ass character before, most recently in the two Ride Along movies, the second of which just came out a half-year prior to Central Intelligence, as well as Get Hard the year before.
Johnson and Hart do have a good chemistry together, such that audiences will likely readily get in line for their next big-screen pairing, should it ever happen. As so often occurs in buddy-cop comedies, the enjoyment of the film wanes the more the plot begins to kick in, leaving the second half of the film also having only about a third of the laughs of the first, and with the run time creeping close to the two-hour length, some viewers may have their attention drift watching lots of gun-play and plot developments they're seen many times before in movies like these. Thurber seems keenly aware, as he tosses in a nice unbilled supporting role for one comedic actor, and an amusing cameo for another (don't look at my credits above if you don't want this spoiled), and an amusing pre-credits blooper reel that will likely make up for any laughs lost somewhere amid the chaos of the sloppy and not-terribly-exciting action set pieces. The leads are better than the material around them, but it's entertaining to see them play off each other's energy, enough to occasionally transcend most of the more tired material in between.
©2016 Vince Leo