Central Intelligence – 2016

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Timothy John Smith, Megan Park, Ryan Hansen, Thomas Kretschmann, Phil Reeves, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Kumail Nanjiani

If there are two actors in the universe making more movies than Samuel L. Jackson, they are Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. The range for Hart and Johnson may not be extreme, but they sure have the recipe for someone who is looking to forget about life for a while on a Friday night.

Johnson, aka WWE’s The Rock, has grown into an action movie icon. He’s got a large presence, but an astute self-awareness. There have been some bumps in the road and he’s taken some risks, but he’s been bankable if not award worthy.

Central Intelligence is a step in the right direction. We get a healthy dose of his action skills, but his comic timing is sharpened to the point where he’s actually funny. We’re not talking Arnold funny, either.

The story is about Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) and Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart). In High School, Wheirdicht is (Johnson given a bad digital makeover) a fat dweeb. Inexplicably, he is caught singing in the shower while the rest of the school is at an assembly celebrating Calvin being the best High School student ever. Yeah, it’s not subtle, but it gets worse. While he’s accepting his award, he gets surprised by seeing Wheirdict’s naked body sliding across the floor. So Calvin covers Robbie with his massively decorated letterman’s jacket.

Cut to 20 years later. Calvin has a good job, but is dissatisfied with his life as he sees younger employees promoted over him. He is in the midst of one of his bouts of self-pity, about to decline an invitation to his High School reunion when he gets a friend request from a “Bob Stone,” on Facebook. Cutting to the chase, Bob is Robbie and he’s now a very studly CIA agent.

The story is no great shakes. Someone is on the lamb after losing his partner. For some reason, this plot needs Joyner as an accountant. Let me tell you a secret…there was no need for Joyner as an accountant.

Central Intelligence is at its best when it’s awkward. Hart is good as it gets these days when it comes to that. Johnson is even better. Playing against his manly stereotype places him atop the list of one note action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel. It’s the first step towards better performances that no one else his size can approach.

Let’s be serious though. This isn’t mensa material. It’s a big dumb action comedy. There is nothing here as funny as Thurber’s Terry Tate, Office Linebacker and thank goodness there is nothing nearly as bad as We’re The Millers. It might get a few sequels, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure I won’t remember one joke in 5 years, but I will smile when I think about it, just the same.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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