“Central Intelligence” Movie Review


     It’s summer time and that inevitably means a slew of action comedies positioned as counter programming opposite the glut of four quadrant family films such as this past weekend’s “Finding Dory”.  Considering the over abundance of product within the genre, moviegoers really shouldn’t go in expecting anything new, as the buddy comedy has been rinsed and repeated several hundred times since the days of “48 Hrs.” (1982) and “Lethal Weapon” (1987) where the standards were clearly set.  “Central Intelligence”, the latest foray into this realm, comes courtesy of director Rawson Thurber (“Dodgeball”, “We’re the Millers”) and stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart as the mismatched tandem who find themselves involved in a plot that includes everything from international espionage to taking a stance on bullying.  Save to say, there’s plenty going on from scene to scene.

     “Central Intelligence” opens with a prologue taking us back to 1996 when both Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) and Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) were completing their senior year in high school.  Calvin is a standout athlete, class president, and the student voted most likely to succeed.  Bob on the other hand, who at the time went by the name Richard Weirdicht, is an obese and unpopular kid who constantly falls prey to the cruel wrath of the school’s resident bullies.  CGI magic transforms Johnson into a younger and rotund version for the purpose of a scene taking place in the school locker room shower and the prank that ensues which would forever remain in the minds of everyone who attended that ill fated final senior assembly.  

     Fast forward to the present and Calvin, though not unsuccessful, doesn’t appear to be living the kind of life he and his classmates might have envisioned for him.  He married his high school sweetheart, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet in a role that is woefully underwritten.), and became an accountant within a large firm, but with their 20 year high school reunion coming up, he doesn’t feel his status will measure up to expectation.  While at work one day, loathing the fact he was just passed over for an expected promotion, Calvin gets a Facebook friend request from a person named Bob Stone and accepts the request even though he doesn’t know who it is.  Then the instant messaging starts with Bob  inviting him to hang out which he agrees to.  Once at the bar, Calvin is shocked when he finds out Bob is Richard from high school, noting of course that he is no longer the fat kid he remembered.

     After the initial getting reacquainted stuff and the obligatory bar room fight sequence that demonstrated the fact Bob is much more than his massive physique would indicate, screenwriters Ike Barinholtz (“Neighbors”), David Stassen (“The Mindy Project”), and Thurber put the two characters into a scenario that would have Bob revealing himself as a CIA Agent and his need for Calvin’s accounting skills to help him uncover a terrorist plot that also has the CIA believing Bob is the actual suspect.  This puts the duo instantly in motion and creates the reason for a number of run of the mill action sequences of which we have seen many times before done significantly better.  The CIA Agents, led by Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan), who portrayed as bumbling, uninteresting, and devoid of any logical tactics, keeping them one step behind at all times.  With that being said, the film’s merits remain solely with its two leads and their ability to create chemistry and sustain it during the film’s conversational moments.  And for the most part, with the aid of the often funny dialogue and Johnson’s deadpan comic delivery, “Central Intelligence” succeeds in that regard.

     Perhaps the strongest element of the story is the backwards relationship displayed by two characters who you would expect to act differently than they do.  Bob, as we find out, has idolized Calvin since high school and has used the motivation set by his example to model his life into something far more successful than the unpopular kid he was might have suggested.  Conversely, Calvin, though in awe of Bob’s physical tools, spends nearly the entire film trying to get away from him, as he never seems to actually trust what he’s saying.  That makes for some good back and forth, given Hart’s skills to improvise and the way he takes full advantage of the obvious size difference.  “Central Intelligence” also benefits from three well timed cameos, two who are very well known and one who you may only know if you happen to watch HBO’s great “Silicon Valley”.  Overall, you come away from a film like this knowing its premise and action scenes were worn out years ago, but the comic timing and likability of Hart and Johnson had me wondering how good they could be together in a film written by maybe a guy like Shane Black instead, keeping the strengths of “Central Intelligence “ intact, but replacing a carbon copy plot filled with lame and convenient coincidences with a more polished and original story.  GRADE: C+