It’s been a long time since Hollywood has given Dwayne Johnson any really good material to sink his teeth into and Central Intelligence sadly continues that trend. A captivating screen presence, Johnson’s career hasn’t developed at nearly the same rate as his bank balance. Given that he is actually a good actor with undeniable charm, this is perplexing to see. Kevin Hart is another guy who is making it big in Hollywood at the moment. His stand-up comedy (before his movie career really took off) was superb and showcased a talent that really understood his medium and how to play to a crowd. So a collaboration between the two must certainly equate to a cinematic sure-thing?
Central Intelligence is a typical big budget studio comedy that aims low and frequently misses. It looks flashy but there’s little substance to it. Seemingly content to build an entire movie around the tagline ‘saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’, you feel that the studio and filmmakers felt the job was done there and then.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who has comedy gem Dodgeball under his belt, at least delivers a nice looking film. The script is lazy though and after a really good opening 30 minutes, the movie soon descends into a convolutedly and nonsensical mess of story threads and completely absurd circumstance.
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are a good central pairing though and their natural chemistry is clear to see. If there’s one thing the script does right, it’s that it manages to resist the current trend of making Hart out to be a whiney loudmouth that grates rather than entertains. His character Calvin Joyner is actually a normal, relatable guy. Once the big man at high school, Calvin’s life hasn’t quite gone to plan. He was captain of the football team but now wallows in an unfulfilling desk job as an accountant. He once helped out a fellow classmate who was ridiculed for his weight in school and when that same guy sends him a friend request to reconnect, things start to get crazy.
Now going by the name Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), the awkward student he once knew is now a mountain of muscle but he has still maintained his good nature and his strong admiration for what Calvin did for him all those years ago. After a few reacquainting drinks, Bob asks Calvin if he’d help him out with an accounting problem he has. This sparks off a chain of events that has Calvin and Bob dabbling in international espionage whilst on the run from the CIA.
So far so good, but it soon becomes very clear that the story has run out of steam. The concept could have brought forth a lot more natural comedy, especially when the film makes a concerted effort to establish how their school days have affected Calvin and Bob in later life. There’s plenty to pillage there but instead, Central Intelligence jumps between silly action set-pieces (that themselves don’t leave much of a mark). A late Jason Bateman cameo as a former school bully is fun but again, goes for the easy gags. A completely ludicrous finale and villain also leaves you scratching your head.
So Central Intelligence sadly joins the ever growing ranks of big studio comedies that feel desperately out of touch with the fundamentals of being funny. There are a lot worse films out there and the chemistry of Johnson and Hart does enough to make this entertaining in parts. It’s just a crying shame that two talents like this are wasted on a project that hasn’t been thought through with much diligence or savvy. The wait for that next great comedy-duo movie continues.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jason Bateman, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber Writer: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber Released By: Universal Certificate: 12A Duration: 107 mins Release Date: 1st July 2016