Central Intelligence (2016)

Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson

I first heard about Central Intelligence months before its theatrical release, when Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, two of today’s hottest names, posted back-to-back videos on their social media sties claiming that their film set had been shut down temporarily, the duo butting heads while relaying information to their online followers. This initiated a good-natured but humorous social media war promoting the said project, the quarrel showcasing the pair’s great chemistry and budding rapport. This dynamite connection continued all the way through to the movie’s press junkets and tours, the constant banter between the stars proving that these guys actually clicked as friends and partners, this camaraderie really extending to the screen — where it matters most!

'Sweet wallpaper, bro'
‘Sweet wallpaper, bro’

With that out of the way, Central Intelligence follows Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart), a former high school superstar nicknamed ‘The Golden Jet’ by his teachers and peers, who was voted the most likely to succeed after graduation. Twenty years later, however, Calvin finds himself trapped in a dead-end risk-averse accounting job where he’s consistently being overlooked for that big promotion while his marriage to high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) seems to be stuck on pause. Nonetheless, when Bob Stone (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), an old acquaintance turned indestructible CIA agent, rolls into town looking for help, Calvin’s mundane status quo is rudely interrupted as he finds himself in the midst of a crazy espionage plot that threatens the safety of the entire Western world.

Given the impressive lead up, it’s no surprise to see that Johnson and Hart really deliver here, the odd couple supplying the spy romp with its much-needed heart (excuse the pun), the twosome bouncing off one another whilst playing against stereotype and subverting their trademark images, flaunting their likable magnetism and charisma. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, San Andreas (2015), steals the show, whether he’s playing Robbie Weirdicht, the once gentle supersized kid who was forced to drop out of school after being mortifyingly humiliated, or Bob Stone, his fanny-pack wearing, unicorn-loving Jason Bourne type alter ego, Johnson’s allure and appeal are always plainly in sight — it’s no wonder folks are calling the dude ‘franchise Viagra.’ Kevin Hart, Ride Along (2014), is equally as sizzling as Calvin Joyner, the straight guy for whom the sky was once the limit now unwillingly roped into a search for some kinda world-threatening thingamajig. The kicker here is that neither Johnson nor Hart lose themselves in their super-stardom, the headline icons striking a fun balance between witty and goofy whilst making the most out of their larger-than-life personas — particularly Johnson who flexes every comedic muscle in his bulging bod to squeeze maximum laughs out of patrons.

'We're all gonna need therapy after this is over.'
‘We’re all gonna need therapy after this is over.’

With Johnson and Hart essentially basking in the limelight, their co-stars have very little to do and a lot to compete with. Amy Ryan, Birdman (2014), is somewhat passable as Pamela Harris, a CIA Agent who’s convinced that Bob’s gone rogue after killing his partner. On the topic of cohorts, Aaron Paul, who’s best known for his role as Jesse Pinkman in television’s Breaking Bad (2008), is pretty forgettable as Bob’s former associate Phil. Fortunately, there’s a whole bunch of inspired throwaway cameos and crafty references to make up for the lackluster supporting cast.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, the man behind comedy hits Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) and We’re the Millers (2013), and working from a script that he co-wrote with comedian Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, Central Intelligence does at times get bogged down by the intricacy of its own run-of-the-mill ‘intelligence’ angle, its muddling jargon and unoriginal (even boring) action set pieces taking time away from our animated heroes and their playful repartee. Other things also don’t make sense — for instance, why was Weirdicht showering while the rest of the students at Central High were at assembly? There’s also a baffling side plot (that repeats a whole lot of information) which freezes some of the levity and hints at a daft idea that Johnson’s Stone might in fact turn out to be a double-crossing villain — a mystery element I doubt any audience member would actually fall for (not even for a second).

On a plus side, Marshall Thurber and his team have injected a timely message about the effects of bullying and belittling into proceedings without shoving it down viewers’ throats. There’s a heart-breaking scene (that hits close to home) which sees Johnson’s assured Stone confront a ghost from his past, with the beefy burly Bob retreating back into his former chubby shell, this thread raising awareness about the real-life negative and lasting effects of bullying — kudos guys!

'Nuh, seriously take it. I'm bulletproof - I'm The Rock!'
‘Nuh, seriously take it. I’m bulletproof – I’m The Rock!’

Living up to its very clever tag (someone needs a promotion), Central Intelligence boasts an electrifying mismatched double-act by Johnson and Hart (who provide the goods) along with a slew of genuine laughs, guided by a nifty self-referential screenplay that’s not trying too hard to be something it ain’t — as far as low-concept escapist fare goes, this one’s a winner. Finishing in a Romy & Michele type climax that takes place at the pair’s twentieth high school reunion, one could only hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Calvin and Bob … or his bum bag!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Central Intelligence is released through Universal Pictures Australia