2016 - 114 minutes
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, Tim Griffin, Timothy John Smith
Somebody please get Kevin Hart a decent script. He’s funny and charismatic, but thus far his feature film vehicles have failed to capitalize on his charms. Much like the Ride Along movies and Get Hard, Central Intelligence casts the comedian in the role of likeable everyman thrust into dangerous situations that he shrieks his way through.
His latest is perhaps the most frustrating of the bunch because it pairs him with an equally appealing co-star, Dwayne Johnson, who’s also overwhelmed by an idiotic plot that doesn’t allow either lead to properly shine. Thanks to the magnetism of its two stars, Central Intelligence never quite becomes a grating slog. Instead, it’s merely a semi-pleasant diversion.
A prologue shows us that Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the big man on campus in high school, while classmate Robbie (Johnson) was overweight and a favorite target of bullies. Calvin shows compassion towards his picked-on peer and leaves a lasting impression on Robbie. Now, on the eve of his 20-year reunion, Calvin is an office drone who laments his unfulfilled potential. He receives a message from Robbie (now just Bob) asking to catch up, and agrees to meet. Bob is now a hulk of a man who quickly pulls Calvin into a game of espionage involving offshore banking transactions, satellite codes, and hordes of CIA agents led by Harris (Amy Ryan).
Hart and Johnson are great together, they just don’t have a lot of great stuff to do, with the scripted comedy hit and miss. A running gag about Bob using his CIA training to disappear in a second works; running gags regarding a John Hughes movie don’t.
Central Intelligence makes a concerted effort for the stars to play against type. Hart is more mild mannered than usual, and Johnson is a goofy (yet huge) dude still stinging from painful teenage years. This becomes a bit problematic as Hart falls back overemphasizing his physical tics due to a lack of material, and it’s hard to buy Johnson as a silly, emotionally stunted man one minute and a buff, capable CIA operative the next.
Worse, the overwritten screenplay constantly plays with loyalties. Calvin and Bob have an on-again, off-again partnership that grows tiresome as the movie plays up a completely uninteresting whodunit, building to the reveal of its big bad behind the unimportant nefarious plot. Are we really supposed to believe that The Rock might not really be a good guy? Do we really think that the actor who appears in a flashback as Bob’s former partner is only going to be in the movie for that one scene?
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber spends too much time attempting to make sense out of all the nonsense surrounding Calvin and Bob instead of fully capitalizing on the chemistry of the leads. This is done largely through boring action scenes where highly-trained CIA agents shoot at and miss their targets hundreds of times. Then, when they have someone dead to rights, they pause to chat. Harris also bursts into Calvin’s fully-staffed office guns blazing with no thought of collateral damage.
Ryan is a steady presence, and is even able to make her character a little mysterious, but she’s mostly just there as a story cog. Likewise for Danielle Nicolet as Calvin’s high school sweetheart turned wife.
Lost in all the noise is a good-natured message about bullying, kindness, and acceptance. A couple of good cameos help to better cement the sentiment, especially the one in the final scene, which is something (and someone) you probably wouldn’t expect. So, Central Intelligence has its heart in the right place. Just not its Hart. Or its Johnson.