There are several automatic jokes in “Central Intelligence” with the see-it-to-believe-it size differential of its two stars at the forefront. The fact that Dwayne Johnson towers exactly one foot over Kevin Hart is bizarrely funny and surely amusing to even those people who are most vertically challenged.
If we are to believe the old adage that size doesn’t matter, then “Central Intelligence” is going to need more than Johnson’s biceps and Hart’s lack thereof to keep it afloat. Even though it’s about as silly as a bro action comedy can get, Johnson and Hart make a great team and their snappy, pop culture-laden dialogue gives this movie way more laughs than it actually deserves.
The “Central Intelligence” screenplay by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The movie begins with a flashback to 1996 and a high school assembly led by superstar Calvin Joyner (Hart). After an unfortunate post-En Vogue singalong bullying incident in the shower, the chubby drama club nerd Bob Stone (Johnson, with plenty of CGI) is embarrassed in front of the whole school with only Calvin coming to his aid.
The movie returns to present day and finds Calvin married to his high school sweetheart, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), and a successful, if not bored senseless accountant. He’s having a “what does it all mean” life moment as their 20 year high school reunion approaches. Things begin to turn around when he’s contacted by Bob (Johnson, sans CGI and musclebound) on Facebook and they meet for drinks.
It turns out that Bob is a CIA killing machine. He still has retained his nerd factor as he geeks out over hanging out with the coolest guy in school while wearing a fanny pack. Calvin dismisses his overeager behavior and helps Bob out with what he believes to be a harmless financial discrepancy.
This pulls Calvin into a huge conspiracy involving CIA Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan), loads of zany action, and international intrigue featuring a terrorist named “the Black Badger.” There are a few cameos along the way that mostly work, but one of which is far too mean spirited for the rest of this fairly silly movie.
The action in “Central Intelligence” is neither thrilling or uniquely shot as it’s going for laughs. It’s very hit or miss with most of the chuckles coming from Calvin’s reactions to Bob’s blatant disregard for their safety. The most amusing aspect of how director Thurber pieced the action together is how Bob manages to defy physics and appear out of thin air, which he explains simply as “tradecraft.”
Normally, Kevin Hart screeches his way through movies and people call it “comedy.” In “Central Intelligence”, he’s dialed it way down and gets laughs as a nervous, scared out of his mind civilian. He stutters and stammers away, only rarely hitting that octave of annoyance that only Hart can reach. This is Hart as the straight man and it’s something he should try more often.
Watching a huge, hulking man such as Dwayne Johnson express his love for 1980s teen movies, call himself a “hugger”, or do all he can to talk people out of taking a beatdown from him are all inherently funny things. Over the course of a two hour movie, this type of character could become exceptionally annoying, but the sheer volume of joy that Johnson is throwing on screen makes it palatable. Clearly, Johnson had so much fun playing Bob Stone that he makes him fun.
“Central Intelligence” puts Johnson in a t-shirt with a cartoon unicorn on it. It’s one of the laziest jokes ever in a movie. However, that does not make it any less hysterical. This is a fun and harmless romp that thankfully stays away from gross-out and distasteful comedy. It is destined to be enjoyed by the masses and push Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson further into stardom.