Title: Central Intelligence
Release Date: June 17th, 2016
Studio: Warner Bros Pictures/New Line Cinema/Universal Pictures
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Creating an iconic comedic duo is like a special form of chemistry. However, there are no lab instructions for comedy. The two actors just need a chance to riff off of each other, and the combination will either pop or fizz out. Over the past couple of years, Kevin Hart has been something of a mad scientist, combining his talents with those of Ice Cube, Josh Gad, and Will Farrell to varying degrees of success. So far, only his two ride alongs with the former N.W.A. frontman have achieved any financial success, and frankly even that dynamic comes off as a bit forced. Enter Dwayne Johnson, A.K.A. Captain Charisma. An affable titan so effortlessly charming that he sells one hundred tickets with every smile. Could he finally be Hart’s missing ingredient in Central Intelligence?
Central Intelligence starts off with a reunion of sorts between Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart), and Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). Calvin is a former prom king turned lowly accountant while Stone has transformed himself from an overweight bully magnet into a beefcake with a heart of gold. Never forgetting an act of kindness Calvin did for him, Bob is perhaps a bit too enthusiastic to catch up with his old acquaintance as they take part in a night of fun that culminates in a bar fight. However, that’s far from the last fight they find themselves in, as it turns out that Bob is actually an AWOL CIA agent who needs Calvin’s help to clear his name. Forced to leave his old life behind, Calvin is forced to choose between the unicorn shirt wearing killing machine and the agency, who claims that Bob is a danger to himself and others.
To say that we’re in old hat story territory would be an insult to antique fedoras. On paper, this is the same spy comedy we’ve seen a thousand times before. As such, what needs to hold this together are our two lead characters. Fortunately, Central Intelligence has combined two mighty talents in Johnson, and Hart. The chemistry between these two practically seeps off the screen the moment they are put together, and even when nothing else is working, they are pulling out laughs. Johnson, in particular, is a riot here, his Bob being both a product of the action movie culture that created The Rock and the social introversion that stems from spending a large portion of life as an outcast. Every word out of this guy’s mouth is so absurdly earnest that we can both laugh with him and at him, and when the film decides to take him to a more emotional place, we’re with him a thousand percent. Hart is in some ways re-treading his typical wild-man act, but it is a bit more restrained this time. It’s more focussed on the comedian’s penchant for reactionary humor, only resorting to the wild screaming in the more action heavy moments.
Unfortunately, there is very little narratively holding up this dynamic duo. The CIA plot is ultimately so thin and small scale that it seems like window dressing between action sequences. Amy Ryan (in the role of the primary agent in pursuit of Bob) seems to know this all too well, seeming bored with her role at every turn. Things do pick up when the focus shifts back to Bob’s affliction with bullies, which is bolstered by some very effective A-List cameos. However, these more personal stakes only come into play about a third of the time. This makes what could have been an incredibly positive self-discovery message fall a little flat under the weight of a generic action comedy.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber certainly knows his way around a comedy, having done Dodgeball and We’re the Millers previously. His direction here is a bit of a mixed bag, with some fantastically paced scenes cobbled together with glacially unfunny ones. The former does win out for the most part, but there were moments where things essentially descend into a numbing Kevin Hart yell-fest. That said, the action sequences are fairly well done. Nothing special to be sure, but for a comedy with a surprising amount of hand to hand combat, everything is captured fairly smoothly.
While Central Intelligence may not ultimately be the film they are remembered for, it does create an excellent comedic pairing in Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. Frankly, a movie of just these two sitting and talking might have been more enjoyable, as the CIA storyline ultimately just feels like an inconvenience. It’s a contrived story that is pulling every fiber in its body to make this a palatable summer comedy. That said, the laughs are still very much there, and in the film’s strongest moments it even manages to be fairly uplifting. When it comes to brain-off entertainment, this is currently the agent with the highest likelihood of success in your local multiplex.
Characters: Bob and Calvin are surprisingly well-defined characters for this type of movie. Bob’s transformation from socially awkward nerd into equally socially awkward super-hero, in particular, is very endearing. His vulnerability is ultimately the heartbeat of the film.
Cinematography: Fairly standard. When the action sequences aren’t desperately trying to hide stunt doubles, they’re fairly well shot and easy to track.
Story: The caper involving the CIA is utter nonsense and could be easily tuned out while still enjoying the movie just fine. All of the best moments are character based, and thankfully there are enough of those to carry us to the end.
Acting: Hart and Johnson are a perfectly engineered comedic duo. They both play to their strengths while also trying something new. The supporting cast isn’t anything particularly special, but several surprisingly A-List cameos make up for it.
- Hart and Johnson’s Chemistry
- Anti-Bullying Message
- Several Very Funny Sequences
- Fantastic Cameos
- Some Fun Action Beats
- Feels small in scale
- CIA plot is completely disposable
- Wonky second act
- Hart’s occasionally grating over-acting
Michael Fairbanks is a lifelong film lover from San Diego, California. His favorite movies include The Dark Knight, Silver Linings Playbook, and As Good As It Gets. In addition to The Nerd Stash, Fairbanks writes for both The Young Folks, and his own blog, entitled Fairbanks on Film.