“Central Intelligence” is an action comedy that gets by on the great chemistry between leading actors and hopefully new comedy duo Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. The movie itself is kind of rote, as most of the action is very generic and not presented particularly well, and the plot used to justify this comedy team up seems very much like an afterthought, as there is a bunch of nonsense about “satellite codes” and some not-so-secret secret auction and some shadowy figure called “the Black Badger” that everyone chases and it really it just feels exactly like the kind of generic spy plot used in these type of action comedies (see: “Spy” and “The Brothers Grimsby” and so on). So as the story has nothing to offer and the action is mostly “meh,” then what does “Central Intelligence” have to offer?
Well first and foremost, Dwayne Johnson is definitely working his ass off in this movie as Bob Stone, a possibly disgraced CIA Agent (super agent really) who is insanely competent in terms of being a spy and is painfully socially stunted thanks to a childhood that consisted mostly of being bullied and an adulthood that consisted mostly of lifting weights and learning how to kill people for the government. When he meets up with the only person in high school who was ever nice to him, his wide eyed enthusiasm and overly sincere accolades are both funny and a little off putting because it is obvious this guy has a screw or two loose, apparently jarred loose by a traumatic childhood that he has never gotten over. This coupled with his abilities as a spy make him a very unpredictable person, and hence, an interesting and fun character to follow. He has real emotional hang ups to get over, all the while trying to do this silly thing with the satellite codes and whatever other hooey they made up to get this plot in motion.
Kevin Hart, meanwhile, plays the straight man to Johnson’s insane Bob Stone, but he has his own little emotional journey that works pretty well on its own. As Calvin Joyner, he is in a low point in his life when Bob comes along. Despite still being married to his very beautiful high school sweetheart, he feels his life is unfulfilled, as he went from the most popular and successful kid in his high school to just another accountant at his job. He is in a rut, and even though he gets dragged literally kicking and screaming through this whole thing, an impromptu escapade into the world of global espionage is apparently just what the doctor ordered for Calvin to learn how to be the hero of his own story (the movie’s words, not mine). And sure Kevin Hart is often funny and does his Kevin Hart thing, but he is actually more subdued than normal, especially when in scenes with Johnson’s much more over the top Bob Stone. Hart’s reactions and expressions to everything Johnson says and does are great, and actually pretty much everything about the way these two interact is funny, and while they don’t have to play these types of characters again, I would like to see what another team up of Johnson and Hart could be.
Too bad the rest of the movie just isn’t as good as the two of them and their specific characters. A few things get introduced in ways that feel like they will come back around later, and then it turns out, nope, it was just a tangent. Like the movie bothers to introduce a trio of tough guy characters who make it known that they are mob affiliated early on in the movie, and this is done to give Bob Stone a chance to do two things – 1) show off his fighting abilities and 2) proclaim that he doesn’t like bullies. A better movie would have had fall out from this interaction, these goons would have come back around in some way, but in this movie after this point they just disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. And then there is the moment in which Bob explains to Calvin that he took his anger and hurt from childhood and balled it up and shoved it down deep in him and ignored it since then. Calvin says that’s not good, and we know he’s right, why else would Bob say that if he wasn’t going to “explode” later on in the movie? That’s the whole point of the “shove it down deep inside” analogy, that the pressure builds over time until the person can’t take it anymore. So I spent the rest of the movie waiting for this to pay off, and nope, it never does. Because weak writing, that’s why.
There are plenty of examples of just lazy storytelling in “Central Intelligence” but it does us no good to run them all down here. If you like either of these guys, this movie is worth watching for them alone. There are also a handful of fun little cameos that you can ruin for yourself with a quick perusal of the IMDB page for this movie, but that’s about it. A decent way to spend a couple of hours, though with some effort it could have been so much more.