Headlined by Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, Central Intelligence is an odd couple comedy about two high school acquaintances that end up on the run from the CIA.
The film opens with a flashback scene in a high school gym, where we meet Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), an overweight teenage outsider, who gets humiliated by his peers when he’s tossed naked into the middle of a year-end pep rally. Calvin Joyner (Hart) is the class superstar, and the only one who doesn’t laugh at him, sticking up for Robbie in a simple yet very kind way.
Fast forward 20 years, Robbie – now under the pseudonym Bob Stone – contacts Calvin on Facebook and arranges a reunion. As Calvin discovers, Bob, after years of six-hour a day workouts, has transformed into, well, Dwayne Johnson. Tattooed and bulked up, Bob will kick the butt of anyone he wants to, especially bullies, though remains good-natured and rather quirky, regularly professing his love for the likes of Molly Ringwald, fanny packs and unicorns.
As he reconnects with Calvin, now a bored accountant, Bob reveals that he’s actually a CIA agent gone rogue. He proceeds to lure Calvin out of his mundane existence and into an adventure that involves government secrets and fighting off a bunch of madcap CIA agents. It’s essentially an action-comedy mash-up which mixes Rush Hour and Die Hard with a humorous dash of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who made We’re the Millers and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, is effective at showcasing Hart and Johnson’s natural chemistry, crafting a number of funny jokes based around the pair’s vastly differing physical frames, as well as successfully underscoring a worthy anti-bullying message. At the crux of the film is the joke that Bob, in spite of his transformation is the same sweet-natured geek he always was, ignoring fawning women and taking success in his stride, with Johnson doing a nice job of portraying a sense of humility. Hart, whose brilliant comic timing and delivery is undeniable, unfortunately doesn’t get enough quality dialogue and tends to rely on his signature style of frenetic ranting in scenes without Johnson.
As the narrative focuses on Bob and Calvin’s antics, the rest of the supporting cast, namely Calvin’s wife Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) and Bob’s CIA boss Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) are relegated to playing more serious characters, merely there as figures for the film’s stars to bounce jokes off. Nevertheless, they play their roles convincingly, as do other known actors who make cameo appearances, such as Jason Bateman in a scene stealing turn as the vengeful Trevor.
Central Intelligence doesn’t deliver much in the way of narrative or filmmaking craftsmanship, but thanks to the performances of its leads and a fine line-up of cameos, the result is two hours of light-hearted summer escapism.
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