In keeping with its high school theme, Central Intelligence does the bare minimum to warrant a passing grade.
Kevin Hart is at the peak of his box office dominance. The surprisingly versatile Dwayne Johnson continues to show more intricate layers than box office tough guy. On paper, this seems like a can’t miss prospect, but I almost felt like this was a comedy that didn’t want to wreck the curve and settled.
Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the most popular guy in his high school. Nicknamed ‘The Golden Jet,’ Calvin’s future seemed bright, but like so many high school tragedies he peaked too soon. After marrying his high school sweetheart and homecoming queen, Maggie (The Flash’s Danielle Nicolet), Calvin had to settle for a life of mediocrity toiling as an accountant.
On the eve of the 20th reunion, Calvin can’t bear the thought of explaining his life’s failures to those who expected so much of him. The reunion has to wait though as Bob Stone (Johnson) makes a surprise return in Calvin’s life. Bullied and humiliated for his weight and social awkwardness, Bob’s most significant high school memory was being embarrassed in front of the entire senior class and Calvin’s gracious act of kindness.
Now jacked up and a tail kicking member of the CIA, Bob offers Calvin an escape from his normal, boring routine. Provided Bob’s ex-CIA co-supervisor Harris (Amy Ryan) is dead wrong in thinking he’s gone rogue and needs Calvin’s help to bring him in.
At times, no matter how earnest Johnson is in playing this mature-stunted character it doesn’t click. Bob seems like he was frozen in the 90s and just emerged from his cocoon. His wardrobe and slang didn’t make it to Y2K. The script, written by three screenwriters, teases that Bob is simply playing goofy. Johnson is game for going against type with a silly action hero role, but those moments when the smile fades and he gets serious there seemed like missed opportunities for Bob.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has directed two top tier comedies in the last 15 years with We’re the Millers and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. There are some moments here that reach the level of those modern classics, but overall the film never manages that amount of consistency.
A lot of times it comes down to an unwillingness to move on from a joke that doesn’t work. In some cases, good bits like Calvin’s encounter with an airport security guard (Kumail Nanjiani) get stretched out too long and lose their punch.
Thankfully, the chemistry with Hart and Johnson is enough to keep the film rolling. Hart offers some slight deviation from the same character he plays in every role. At this point you know what Hart can provide so it’s important for his co-lead to bring something different. Johnson delivers on his end and doesn’t get overshadowed with Hart’s dynamo energy.
For wrestling fans, Central Intelligence offers a slew of Easter Eggs to Johnson’s wrestling career as The Rock such as wearing jorts like his rival John Cena or punching a foe into a river a la Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Additionally, there’s some fun stunt casting like Jason Bateman as Bob’s high school tormentor Trevor, Aaron Paul as Bob’s CIA partner and Melissa McCarthy as Bob’s high school crush.
Central Intelligence really is a case of good enough. There’s enough to make for an amusing comedy, but like that disappointed teacher, you know it could have been so much better.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures