Central Intelligence and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
That HAS to be the greatest tagline of all time, am I right? For months now, I’m been cautiously optimistic of this buddy film starring Kevin Hart as an everyday business man and Dwayne Johnson as… what can only be described as a puppy operated meat robot. Seriously, is there anyone more adorable than The Rock? Honestly, that’s the main reason WHY I was interested at all. The story looked average and the spy stuff looked simplistic, but damn do I love this guy and pairing him up with Kevin Hart seemed like a brilliant move. Well the movie is finally here, so does it live up to those expectations, or is this yet another non-starter for two actors who are absolutely fantastic but don’t always know how to pick a decent script? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) who’s been coasting through life for the last two decades now without any real vision or goals. Now it’s not like his life is terrible because he is married to his high school sweetheart and he did land a good job as an accountant, but in high school he was the most popular kid in school and was voted most likely to succeed by his peers, and now he’s looking down the barrel of a twenty year reunion with nothing much to show for it. The day before the reunion though, things take a very odd turn as one of his fellow classmates Bobby (Dwayne Johnson) gets in touch with him on Facebook and convinces him to hang out that night which he agrees to and is surprised to see the fat kid everyone made fun of has turned into… well Dwayne Johnson. Things seem to go well that night as Bob pours his heart out about how Calvin was the only guy in school to ever treat him with kindness and respect, and they end up having a great time. That is until Bob starts asking Calvin to look into some files for him which inadvertently pulls his ass into one big terrorism plot where an ALL POWERFUL COMPUTER CHIP is gonna get sold to the highest bidder and Bobby’s the only one who can stop them. OR IS HE!? The CIA get involved as one their agents (Amy Ryan) gets in touch with Calvin and lets him know that Bob is bug-fuck nuts and is probably gonna kill everyone. Not an unreasonable assumption to make considering how much shit he fucks up and how much he REALLY idolizes Calvin, so now it’s a race against time as Calvin has to find out who to trust, how to not get killed, and possibly save America in the process!
On top of being a bafflingly good year for sequels it’s also been a pretty solid one for comedies, and this movie is just another example of that. It’s not a classic by any stretch and it isn’t gonna be a highlight in either of the actor’s careers, but it’s definitely fun to sit through and is held up mightily by its two main leads. It’s a bit shaky on the production side of things (looks REALLY cheap in places) and the writing isn’t what I would call A+ material, but it does just a bit more than what you would be expecting in terms of character development and pathos where it does end up standing out just a tad from the other comedies we’ve gotten so far.
The movie starts off VERY strong and the first act ends up being the best part because it almost plays out like a sharp indie comedy about two guys with some serious issues they’re hiding having to bounce off of one another. Hell, I could give you an indie comedy BY NAME that pretty much has that exact same premise (The D Train) and the first night of them hanging out together takes great advantage of that dynamic. Dwayne Johnson is a fascinating (if exaggerated) character here that seems to be built of contradictions that still manage to make sense. He’s still horrifically traumatized by his high school experience which was the impetus for him to work so hard at improving himself, but he’s only living under the illusion of such as he clearly cannot deal with any of his trauma. While he tries to play himself off as charming and affable, there’s a layer of desperation and learned callousness that always reminds you to stay at arm’s length if you had to deal with this guy, especially considering he could probably kill you with his eyebrows if he really wanted to. This “nerd does good” thing is taken to such an extreme that he’s blinded by his adoration for Kevin Hart’s character who once helppd him out in high school but clearly doesn’t live up to the ideal he’s built up in his mind, so he’s in complete denial throughout the movie. The only thing I would say I don’t like about his character is that he has another aspect of his personality which is a sociopathic monster who can’t even perceive how destructive he is to everyone around him. Now I do LIKE this conceit as it work very well for the action oriented sections of the movie, but I don’t feel that it fits very well with the damaged person we see when they AREN’T doing spy stuff. I can buy that being a part of his personality, but it comes and goes like a switch so it’s a bit jarring as we have two distinct movies running simultaneously; the reconnection of two people who were brought together years ago in a small yet life changing moment, and what is essentially a less romantic version of Knight and Day. Both sides of this work on their own (even though the spy parts are weaker overall) and it’s not like they’re COMPLETELY incompatible, but I wish they worked together just a bit more than they do here.
Kevin Hart isn’t as dynamic of a character Johnson is who steals the show, but the movie works BECAUSE he’s there to ground things and is the core motivation for Dwayne Johnson doing the crazy and outlandish stuff that we’re laughing at. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have great moments in here, but that most of his actions in this movie are in service to get Dwayne Johnson to his next funny bit and the two end up working off of each other beautifully when it’s firing on all cylinders. It’s also a fascinating dynamic where he’s seen by the inhumanely capable giant man as the greatest person to walk the Earth; especially considering how badly he feels about his own life and the dreams that never materialized for him. I wish they had given us a bit more about that part in particular as we don’t really know what he DOES want (if he’s not happy as an accountant, where WOULD he be happy?) but Kevin Hart’s performance manages to get all that across perfectly. This guy is a real talent considering he can bring that kind of dramatic heft to a movie this goofy so hopefully he’ll take more challenging roles going forward as he clearly has the chops for it.
The rest of the cast unfortunately aren’t too much to write home about as they’re just filling out the scenes and do their own shtick. Jason Bateman in particular has a pretty important minor role in this as the grown version of the bully who tormented Dwayne Johnson in high school, and while I didn’t think his material was funny, it was interesting as far as the development of Dwayne Johnson’s character. Then again, bully or not, I can’t imagine ANYONE going up to Dwayne Johnson and talking shit. The guy could shove you up his god damn nose, and you want to ANTAGONIZE him!? There is one surprise cameo that doesn’t do badly in the role, but the fact that they’re IN the role is a huge spoiler in and of itself for the ending, and they just don’t seem to fit here. They’re feel out of place, but not in an anachronistically funny way; just in a “why aren’t they playing this character in a different movie” way. Still, a lot of the side characters do their job with whatever joke they have to do for the little screen time they get, and ultimately Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are enough to carry the movie even if they’re acting against cardboard cutouts.
There are problems here that are typical with any comedy like this. Not all the jokes land as many of the bits feel like sketches rather than organic beats of the story. Kevin Hart’s constant ad-libbing, Dwayne Johnson wearing a disguise and doing ridiculous shit in it, pretty much any scene involving Kevin Hart’s wife; they all land for the most part, but not as consistently as the more thought out moments. On top of that, EVERYTHING involving the spy angle feels perfunctory at best, and is easily the weakest part of the movie. I don’t understand the mentality where they’ll take a premise and then do the bare minimum with it so they can fit in more jokes, but then make that barely thought out premise integral to the ending of the movie. Needless to say that this movie does that exactly which is disappointing, and it also means the story loses a lot of steam towards the end. The fact that the US Government’s ENTIRE satellite network can be controlled by a single computer chip (no explanation of where this chip came from by the way), the fact that the CIA has like six guys total looking into this just shows that they didn’t have the budget or the time to make this aspect of the story engaging in its own right. Also, the fight scenes are underwhelming because… well you know EXACTLY why. CLOSE UPS! QUICK CUTS! SHAKY CAM! FUCK YOU!!
There are plenty of really good comedies that came out this year, and while this one isn’t really a standout among those, it does have its own unique spin that will at least distinguish it from its peers. Comedy sequels are never a good idea and I really wouldn’t want them to do that, but if they could manage to keep the humor at the same level and devote any new resources to getting the spy angle to be legitimately interesting instead of a jumping off point for the heroes, then we’d have something truly memorable. I would recommend you go see this if you are interested in seeing a raunchy comedy right now, but you wouldn’t be missing out on too much if you waited for the home release. If nothing else, I’m guessing it’s gonna be better than that Jumanji sequel they’re both attached to.
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