Movie Review - Central Intelligence

Ever since the success of Ride Along (2014), the zany, buddy-cop movie has become an easy template to plug-in Kevin Hart. Actually, the buddy-cop movie is a better use of Hart's abilities. Unlike Think Like a Man, he comes across here as less obnoxious because there's a humility and compassion from him right off the bat, even when he's being praised. He's still his loud and fast-talking self, yet here it doesn't come off as him moving quicker than everyone else. It comes off as him trying to keep up. It feels a bit like the opposite of Ride Along where Ice Cube is the one trying to keep up with Hart. In other words, Ice Cube was the straight-man. Here, Hart is the straight-man. In this movie, Hart is the lead but is almost second-fiddle to the comedy. Dwayne Johnson does what no other co-star has done thus far. Johnson upstages Hart. Johnson sucks the oxygen out the room. He steals every scene. Johnson has done comedies before, but he's known more for his action flicks. However, this movie utilizes the best of both worlds for Johnson. If anything, he flexes his comedic muscles, which here bulge bigger than his biceps.

Kevin Hart stars as Calvin Joynor, a forensic accountant who lives and works at a firm in the Baltimore and Washington, DC area. He's married to a beautiful lawyer named Maggie, played by Danielle Nicolet. They're high school sweethearts. It's been 20 years since high school. It's not clear if they've been married that long, but they've certainly been together for that long. Yet, they don't have children. That along with the fact that Calvin isn't where he'd like to be career-wise makes him a bit depressed and obviously frustrated. He's not exactly the sad sack as David Spade in Netflix's recent The Do-Over, but he is on a similar trajectory.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson also stars as Bob Stone, a former fat kid who was horribly bullied and embarrassed on a regular basis and who now is a tall, hugely muscular, 6'5" and possibly 300 lbs., gorgeous man. Yet, his personality does not mesh with someone who has a Herculean body. He's a total goofball. He still has body-image issues where he looks in the mirror and sees a fat kid. He's not depressed or frustrated though. He's upbeat and optimistic, happy-go-lucky, aggressively so. He's a "brony" if you know what that is. He wears a fanny pack with absolutely no shame. He rides a Kawasaki motorcycle but wishes he was Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. He's a guy with not a lot of friends. He lives a lot in his own head, yet he's extremely extroverted.

The essential question though is if Bob is a crazy guy, crazy in a bad way, or if he's just an overly eccentric character. It builds to a point where Calvin isn't sure if Bob is a hero or villain. Bob's charm and cheer would suggest the former. The arrival of three CIA agents, led by Agent Pam Harris, played by Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone and Birdman), puts Bob's loyalties into question. It's an interesting premise because after a convincing first act, one doubts Bob being a good guy and thus one doubts if Johnson is a good guy.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, if you count his time with the WWF, has been acting for 20 years. In all that time, he's never played a bad guy or else a villain. The closest he's come is Michael Bay's Pain & Gain (2013), but even his character in that movie is never meant to be rooted against. His faith is meant to make him endearing, and throughout the film, one is never meant to lose faith in him. Here, however, the audience, particularly Calvin, is meant to lose faith, total faith, in Bob.

Written by Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen who are both writers for The Mindy Project, as well as Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh), the three of them craft this great conceit and pull off what no one else has done and that's make us doubt "The Rock." Yet, it's not for long. The movie is very funny. It's very hilarious actually with a lot of great gags and one-liners, but Barinholtz, Stassen and Thurber ultimately go the predictable route where no matter what, in the end, we have to love "The Rock" and smell what he's cooking.

A lot of humor is generated through Johnson's sheer energy and indomitable screen-presence. Johnson and Hart have great chemistry. They bounce off each other especially well in a doctor's office scene where the two are having a so-called therapy session. However, there are some great bits of dialogue like a crack about Denzel Washington as well as one about Jake Gyllenhaal, delivered by comedian Kumail Nanjiani that made me laugh. There are some physical jokes that were effective too, like one involving blue pajamas and another involving a wish-fulfillment of a taser.

Yet, there are some things that don't work. A crack about Will Smith fell flat. The appearance of Aaron Paul delivering his now hackneyed line from Breaking Bad also falls flat. The appearance and initial scene involving Jason Bateman is funny, but he's basically playing the same character that he did in The Gift (2015). Johnson also has a naked-dancing scene in front of people and on a stage, which could have been funny if I hadn't seen naked-dancing scenes in several films this year, namely Dirty Grandpa and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The nudity scene in Popstar, particularly the aftermath of which, was vastly better than here, so it took the steam out of Johnson's Full Monty.

Unlike Ride Along, the bromance is played up way more here. The bromance is played up way more here than possibly in any Hollywood film in the past decade. Johnson and Hart even kiss. There's a nice cameo at the end, which allows Johnson to kiss a woman. It's nice because the cameo is Melissa McCarthy replicating the joke at the end of Spy (2015), which is a plus-sized woman hooking up with a chiseled, action star. Last year, it was Jason Statham. Here, it's "The Rock" who incidentally fought Statham in Furious 7. It's not nice in that it seems tacked on, if only to reaffirm Bob's heterosexuality, as if a bromance can't stand alone. Thanks to this film though, En Vogue's "My Lovin" is stuck in my head.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for frenetic violence and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.


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