Spies are good, and comedy is good – merging the two can’t fail to be a good thing, right? Perhaps not, but Central Intelligence is not proof of that. The on-screen partnership of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart is the only real good thing about it – the comedy is not really there, and the action sequences are a bit boring. The biggest surprise here is that the film is not as awful as you would expect it to be.
Twenty years ago, popular athlete Calvin Joyner (Hart) is top of his class and, on the day of his final pep rally, bullied overweight teen Bob Stone (Johnson) is humiliated, tossed naked into the gym. In the present day, on the day before his high school reunion, Joyner is now a fast-talking accountant missing his glory days. Stone shows up out of the blue, now incredibly fit and muscular, and the two spend a night together catching up. All is not how it seems, however – it transpires that Stone is now a lethal CIA agent, and he needs Calvin’s accounting skills to help him save the comprised US spy satellite system. Together, the former classmates encounter shootouts, espionage and double-crosses while trying to prevent worldwide chaos.
In Central Intelligence, we have an interesting premise that should have made a particularly good and funny buddy movie but, somewhere along the way, it has gone wrong. There are funny moments, don’t get me wrong, but the few laughs are simply not enough, nor are they good enough, to sustain a full movie. The blooper reel before the credits made me laugh a lot more than the film itself did – ending on a good note, perhaps, but it’s not where the laughs should be.
A lot of the credit for the humour goes to Johnson and Hart, who are a better pairing than this movie deserves. Johnson brings his typical easy-going charisma and enthusiasm to the role, and is as good as he normally is. Hart starts the movie with a couple of black jokes, and I was afraid this was going to run through the film – fortunately, when Johnson appears, he shies away from this in favour of a normal man in extraordinary circumstances. However, whereas Johnson maintains the same likeability factor throughout, Hart ranges from amusing to simply unbearable.
There are a few good cameos in the movie, which I shan’t ruin, but the rest of it is merely plodding through the plot beats and treading out the most perfunctory of jokes. As with all comedies nowadays, it also tries to add in a message and some heart – its anti-bullying line is incredibly heavy-handed but positive, but the stuff with Hart’s marriage is a bit of a non-starter. It guns to do a lot, and it can’t hit all the notes it wants to – of particularly note is a scene in which Amy Ryan, as Bob’s CIA superior, tortures him.
If the comedy is off, then the action sequences are something else entirely. These scenes are just not very exciting – perhaps it is Johnson’s incredible assuredness that just means there is no fear of failure, perhaps it is the completely uninspired directing (by someone who is known for comedy, no less) – and they are enough to make you wish it had just been a straight comedy. Don’t add in spy elements if you can’t do spy elements (there is an attempt to suggest that Bob may be the villain of the piece – if you buy it at all, you’ve bought into this movie more than you should have).
Central Intelligence completely fails at balancing the little comedy it has with the mundane action it struggles to offer, and the viewer is fortunate in that the film is anchored by a good comedic duo. The movie is a bit of a dud, but Johnson and Hart’s likeable and fun chemistry mean that it is still an okay watching experience.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson (Bob Stone), Kevin Hart (Calvin Joyner), Amy Ryan (Agent Pamela Harris), Danielle Nicolet (Maggie), Aaron Paul (Phil), Ryan Hansen (Steve)
Running Time: 107 Mins