Having a great tag line “Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson” had me jazzed to see Central Intelligence. The trailers looked promising and I am a fan of both Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. They both have had their ups and downs in films, but with Central Intelligence, they should get their mojo back. Where films like London Has Fallen represents some of the bad 80’s types of buddy/action films, Central Intelligence along with films like The Nice Guys show how it can be done right. More than likely they won’t be up for any Oscars, but films are made for different reasons and Central Intelligence, despite some bumps, is a winner.
As in the previews, Bob (Johnson) as a high schooler, a rather large and seemingly effeminate young lad, is humiliated in the worst way after he is tossed into a full gym of his fellow students. Laughed at, Calvin Joyner (Hart), the most popular kid ever, gives Bob his letter jacket to cover himself as Bob runs out of the gym in shame. Twenty years later, Calvin is a forensic accountant who has married his high school sweetheart, Maggie (sweetly played by Danielle Nicolet). Passed over for a promotion, Calvin is frustrated that he has not lived up to his high school persona. That is until he is friended on Facebook by Bob, who has never forgotten Calvin’s kindness to him back in high school. Together the try to catch the Black Badger, a terrorist bent on selling the top secret codes for all of America’s satellites to the highest bidder. Bob, now an enormously buff CIA agent, enlists Calvin’s talents as an accountant to catch the bad guys.
There is a lot to like about Central Intelligence, most notably is its stars. They both seem to be playing against their type so Hart is more of the straight guy and Johnson gets a lot of the laughs. Hart has some, too, but it is clear that Johnson is the comedic talent in this film and Johnson is very funny in this film. His very first appearance in the film sets the tone for his character. He whips off a hoodie to reveal he is wearing a girly unicorn t shirt underneath. “Bob, you are so different, now?!” Calvin quips. “What did you do to look so great?” Bob’s response is simple, “I did one thing. I worked out six hours a day for the past twenty years. But, hey anybody can do that, right?” This film has some very funny dialogue and the chemistry between Hart and Johnson is terrific and is the driving force for the film.
Where the film has some issues is when it tries to take itself too seriously and stretches itself. Jason Bateman is simply a cad as one of the original bullies that tormented Bob as a high shooler and still, as an adult. There is no reason offered as to why he is still a jackwagon as an adult only that the film requires it for a plot device with a message about bullying which hits at the end of the film. Bateman is a great actor, but underutilized here. There is also an entire scene at the marriage counselor’s office which was humorous but illogical to the plot. It exists only as a gimmick. It works, for the most part, but seems out of place in regards to what is going on in the rest of the film and the whole espionage plot is old news, too. However, when the film focuses on Johnson and Hart, Central Intelligence is funny. Johnson is almost childlike in his character of Bob. Nothing phases him and he is always a glass-half-full kind of guy. We like him and want to see him happy. Hart will please his fans and his rapid fire delivery also is quite funny.
The ending is a bit dragged out and kind of silly, but it is sweet enough. Amy Ryan and Aaron Paul are not given enough to do but service the plot when they are needed. But the strength of this film is with its script written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber who doubles as the film’s director. Central Intelligence is clever enough to let Johnson and Hart work their magic but it touches on their personalities as well. Bob still deals with the humiliation he suffered that day in high school, even though he is in top shape, there are still days he sees himself as that overweight kid everyone picked on. Calvin, feels disappointed that he has let everyone down and not lived up to his potential. I connected with both of these guys and when they cut loose, I understood them and was invested in them as characters. That is what makes their chemistry work and Central Intelligence a funny ride. Ludwig Goransson and Theodore Shapiro’s score is a cool mix of orchestral and hip-hop that gave this film some added energy and is worth checking out.
Granted, Central Intelligence travels some familiar ground, but for what they set out to do, it works as a film. It is funny and solidly entertaining, despite its flaws. Central Intelligence shows how with the right script and the perfectly cast leads, it can take the routine and make it special for the audience. Johnson continues to impress me with his range, likability and charisma. Hart shows he can change his range to play it straight, as well. Sure,they are not reinventing the wheel, here but on the level of entertainment, you could do far worse than Central Intelligence.
Central Intelligence – ***1/2 out of 5
Central Intelligence – Rated PG-13 for violence, some harsh language and brief nudity
Central Intelligence – Run Time is 114 minutes
Central Intelligence is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations.