The buddy cop genre is a well-worn formula, precisely because it showcases generally likable actors alongside a healthy dose of explosive content. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE makes no attempt to break out of this mold, this time heavily relying on the affable personas of The Rock and Kevin Hart. Yet there’s an unexpected sweetness at the core of director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (Easy A, We’re The Millers) latest, and an occasionally disarming musing on how others can impact on your self worth.
In high school, Calvin Joyner is known as the Golden Jet, and voted most likely to succeed. During, a school event, the overweight and Robbie Weirdicht is bullied and thrown naked in front of all his classmates. Only Calvin looks after him by lending him his jacket. Twenty years later, Calvin (Kevin Hart) is a dissatisfied accountant, married to his high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but constantly looked over for promotion. When the now buff Robbie reenters his life as Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), Calvin’s life goes on an unexpected turn into spy craft and espionage.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE takes its time to get going, relying on the interplay between Hart and Johnson to carry much of the first act. The film’s script struggles here the most, never finding a comfortable middle ground between the slow exposition, shining a light on the comedic talents of its stars, and the action sequences that sporadically follow. Careful episodic set-pieces give a wide berth for the lighthearted material to play out. An especially awkward scene sees Johnson posing as Hart’s marriage counselor, and his attempts at poking fun at pop psychology miss the mark by a wide margin. Each of those scenes rapidly segues into an action beat, including a impressive leap from a tall building into the waiting arms of an inflatable gorilla. It’s almost as if there is an invisible switch off-camera, one that alternates between comedy and action, ensuring that the two can never meet for long.
The film is at is strongest is when it focuses on the gooey centres of its characters. Johnson’s over-the-top enthusiasm is infectious, a natural opposite for Hart’s angry cynicism, although there’s only so many times one can hear a gag about the size of the Rock’s biceps. Which is what makes his confrontation with childhood bully Trevor (Jason Bateman) all the more endearing, as he catches a glimpse of the ‘fat kid’ in the mirror despite decades of physical training. In an era when body image issues and shape shaming are far too commonplace, it is refreshing to see someone of The Rock’s stature acknowledge what countless audience members are going through. His ultimate acceptance of this is just as exaggerated as the rest of the film, but at least it establishes itself as having its heart in the right place.
Wearing its pop cultural references on its sleeve, aping the shape of the types of films Lethal Weapon left in its wake and lifting gags directly from TV’s Archer, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE puts in exactly the amount of effort it needs to carry it over the well-telegraphed finish line. The comedy and action are neither standouts nor can they be condemned for being anything other than functional, meaning that those who will enjoy this most already like the charismatic leads. Now: try and get En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” out of your head.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE released in Australia 30 June 2016 from Universal.
2016 | US | DIR: Rawson Marshall Thurber | WRITERS: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber | CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet | DISTRIBUTOR: Universal | RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes | RATING: ★★★