Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Danielle Nicolet, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Jason Bateman, Ryan Hansen, Tim Griffin, John Smith, Thomas Kretschmann, Kumail Nanjiani, Melissa McCarthy.
Yet another formulaic odd couple buddy action comedy, Central Intelligence teams action hero Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, the Fast & Furious franchise, etc) with motor mouthed comic Kevin Hart (Ride Along, the dire Get Hard, etc), the most annoying and unfunny comic working in mainstream movies at the moment).
It is an odd couple pairing that will remind audiences of the Rush Hour series, in which producers teamed Jackie Chan, a recognised action star of martial arts movies, with Chris Tucker, a motor mouthed and annoying screen presence. The Rush Hour franchise eventually stretched to three installments, each one worse than the preceding one. In movie terms, Central Intelligence is hit and miss, more akin to Rush Hour 3 than classics of this subgenre like 48 Hours, The In-Laws, or the Lethal Weapon series.
In high school Calvin Joyner was the most popular kid and, in the senior year, was voted most likely to succeed. On the other hand, Robbie Weirdicht (say it aloud to get the full impact) was the overweight loner, constantly bullied and humiliated. Until Calvin showed him an act of kindness.
Cut to twenty years later, and Calvin (played by Hart) has never lived up to his potential. He is an accountant stuck in a dead end job with a high powered firm. He has just been passed over for a promotion. Calvin married his high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but their marriage has hit a stormy patch. On the eve of the twentieth reunion of his old high school class, Calvin receives a friend message via Facebook from a person named Bob Stone, who claims to know him from high school. Although he can’t remember Bob, Calvin responds to the request. Before he knows it he is suddenly confronted by Stone (Johnson), who claims to be the former Robbie Weirdicht.
Bob has transformed into a lean, mean, strapping muscle bound guy, a long way from the overweight kid he used to be. The pair enjoy a night out on the town, reliving past memories. But then things start to get weird. Bob claims to be a CIA agent. Calvin finds it hard to believe until Bob defends him against a couple of bullies in a bar.
And now he claims he needs Calvin’s accounting skills to help crack his current case. A mysterious figure known only as “the Black Badger” has stolen some encrypted files and is offering them via a website auction site to the highest bidder. Stone wants Calvin to crack the satellite codes that will lead him to the location of the Black Badger and the handover of the files.
However, Calvin’s office is invaded by heavily armed CIA agents led by the formidable Harris (Amy Ryan), who believes that Stone is actually the traitor, despite his distinguished record. Calvin quickly finds himself caught up in the middle of a web of international espionage and intrigue. He and Stone reluctantly team up, although Calvin is hardly the heroic type. Nor does the meek accountant possess a unique skill set that will enable him to survive various chases and shootouts. So far, so formulaic, and Central Intelligence does follow a well trodden path as this odd couple bond while running for their lives.
Central Intelligence is the first feature film written by Ike Barinholtz (better known for his work on tv series like MADtv and The Mindy Project) and David Stassen (The Mindy Project, etc), but there are enough holes in the plot to drive a fleet of semi-trailers through. And it is not that hard to figure out the identity of the real Black Badger.
Films like this succeed or fail on the charm of the stars. Central Intelligence gets by though on the undoubted chemistry that develops between Johnson and Hart, who seem to have improvised much of their dialogue along the way. And the obvious difference in their physical appearance is often the butt of the humour, as it was in Ivan Reitman’s Twins, which paired Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito. And as so often happens with these films there are some outtakes over the final credits that show that the actors seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely while shooting the film.
Johnson has plenty of charisma on screen. Here he has fun sending up his own imposing screen presence, and he does most of the heavy lifting with the comedy, showing great timing and delivery. He plays his usual tough guy persona for laughs – check out his dress sense, his almost effeminate mannerisms, his fanny pack, his daggy taste in music and films (he calls John Hughes’ coming of age comedy Sixteen Candles his favourite movie of all time!) There are also a few self-effacing references to his body and his body of work throughout.
For his part Hart delivers another loud and manic performance that grates more often than not. Jason Bateman is perfectly cast in a small but effective appearance as the smarmy Trevor Olsen, the former bully who used to make Robbie’s life at school so miserable. And Melissa McCarthy contributes a brief uncredited cameo late in the film. Nicolet does what she can with an underdeveloped role, while Ryan is stuck with a largely one dimensional role as the gung-ho CIA agent.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber previously gave us the enjoyable We’re The Millers and Dodgeball, and he has a good understanding of comedy. He is less assured with the staging of the action sequences though, and falls back on that frenetic, kinetic style of rapid editing preferred by most modern filmmakers that renders them almost incomprehensible and detracts from the fluid nature of the fight scenes.
But somehow Central Intelligence is more entertaining and enjoyable than it has any right to be given its obvious shortcomings. Imagine how much more enjoyable it would have been if they had cast anyone but the ultra annoying and irksome Hart, whose one note comic shtick has long worn out its welcome and passed its use by date.