Published on June 28th, 2016 | by Ian Goodwillie0
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Kevin Hart have enough laughs and chemistry to save Central Intelligence from its own tired ideas and much overused tropes.
It’s like a Hollywood producer started with the idea of partnering Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in a movie, then wrote the script.
Central Intelligence is the story of the high school loser making good then coming back to team up with the high school hero who didn’t. This time, the loser, Dwayne Johnson, became a physically massive CIA agent and the hero, Kevin Hart, became an accountant who doesn’t like his life. Now, Johnson is on the run, accused of treason, and Hart has to pick a side. Does he turn his friend in or stand by his side?
Look, it’s not the most original plot on the face of the Earth but that’s not surprising. This is a straight up studio comedy. But it works.
There are more than a few good laughs in Central Intelligence, some from Hart but mostly from Johnson. His character of Bob Stone is ridiculous and seemingly incapable of knowing how to act in a virtually any normal situation though he’s also one heck of a CIA operative. That may come from a history of being bullied that led into joining the CIA. Bob doesn’t like bullies at any level. Regardless, his character is the source of much of the overt comedy. Hart, on the other hand, plays the straight man to perfection, giving Johnson a great board to play crazy off of.
Hart is a huge comedian right now, both on the big screen and on his stand up tour, but being the straight man is always a challenge. Credit where credit is due on this one. Hart does the job well and even manages to give out a few solid laughs in the role. He plays the fish out of water perfectly, as he did in Ride Along with Ice Cube. The difference here is that Hart’s character, Calvin, doesn’t want in on the action at all and has to be forced/convinced/tricked into helping.
This movie comes down to the relationship between Johnson and Hart. There are more than a few other great actors in the film, including Jason Bateman, Amy Ryan, and Aaron Paul. But it’s Johnson and Hart that make it work.
And without that dynamic, the movie would be a resounding flop.
The reality is that there are three huge clichéd movie tropes in one film; the high school loser emerging as a hero, the awkward buddy cop paradigm, and the funny/inept spy movie. All of these concepts have been done to death. And all of them have been done better. That’s why the dynamic between Johnson and Hart is so important. They are just engaging enough to put these tired premises over.
Both characters have high school issues to deal with, specifically that who they were in high school shouldn’t define them now. Johnson’s Bob needs to get over feeling like the loser people told him he was. Hart’s Calvin Joyner needs to get over feeling like a loser because he didn’t become the person people told him he should be. While Bob ropes Calvin into helping him in the film, they help each other reconcile their present realities in the end.
I could make a list of movies with comparable plots but I think it might be more fun if you do that yourself. Turn your list in at the end of class for extra credit.
And I have to admit that there is a lot of comedy to be found in Bob’s obsession with Calvin as the high school hero. Bob is stuck in high school and perceives Calvin to still be the same guy, which Calvin clearly does not. Bob’s hero worship complex is cute at times, and borderline stalker-ish at others. You end up in a strange halfway point between funny and frightening.
It’s also important to give the movie credit for the reveal on who the true villain is. Right up until the last moments, you are still questioning who is the bad guy in this situation. Even in the final moments the moviegoer is still wondering which side of the line Bob is actually on. Is he the hero? Or is he manipulating Calvin? In the end, it plays out pretty much like you would expect it to but even making you question that perceived certainty is a success.
There is nothing new or innovative about Central Intelligence. It’s a straight up Hollywood summer comedy vehicle for two stars who are definitively hot right now. But it delivers just enough laughs to make worth the price of admission.