Film Review – Central Intelligence
Comedy trailers are often lambasted for giving away all of a movie’s best jokes in a two minute highlight reel, usually accompanied by a happening James Brown or George Thorogood song. Central Intelligence, a new action comedy starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart (a no-brainer cast pairing if ever there was one), narrowly avoids this well-worn trope thanks to some precisely landed one-offs, effective cameos and the chemistry of its leading men. Let’s just not focus too much on that fussy ol’ plot. Oh hell, I have 500 words to fulfill so let’s give it a shot.
Central Intelligence begins with an extended flashback to Central (eh?) High School’s Class of ’96 graduation ceremony. Hart plays Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner, a charismatic jock with a wicked back flip, homecoming crown and the prettiest girlfriend in the joint. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), an overweight nerd with a penchant for En Vogue. I’d be remiss not to point out that both actors play their younger selves in this sequence, using a combination of trick camera shots and the eeriest facial CGI this side of Polar Express. A particularly cruel team of bullies excise a naked Robbie from the gym shower and toss him into full view of the packed auditorium. In a quick display of sympathy, Calvin, the only one not laughing, offers his letterman jacket to cover Robbie and a friendship is born. Eventually.
Cut to present day. Calvin is an underappreciated accountant with a loving, if sorely underwritten, wife (Danielle Nicolette) and an unending drive to be the somebody he was in high school. Through a funny if not entirely coherent series of mysterious friend requests and emojis, Calvin meets up with Robbie, now “Bob Stone,” for the first time since that fated graduation. Now looking like, you know, The Rock, Johnson is initially cagey with details of his life, preferring to reminisce over a friendship with Calvin that never existed outside of his head. The contrast between Stone’s hulking physique and overtly cheery demeanor (we’re talking unicorn t-shirts here, people) is squarely in The Rock’s wheelhouse and he charms even as the ever-chaotic plot crumbles around him.
The long and short of it is Stone is now a CIA operative and enlists the help of Calvin in order to utilize his wicked accounting skills to, um, crack a secret code to prevent the world from blowing up or something? Honestly, I stopped following as the film is clearly less interested in double crossings and rescue missions than showcasing our two leads bicker and improv with one another. And ya know what, that’s ok. Coasting on jittery charm is sort of Hart’s gig and Johnson’s clearly having a blast. But is that enough?
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, We’re The Millers) seems in a little over his head when it comes to juggling the mostly senseless plot, and the framing of his action scenes could use another editor’s eye. That said, I laughed a lot and what the hell else did I go there for.