A bit too generic to be something special, but Central Intelligence features two great lead performances and enough good jokes to be more than satisfactory.
The premise of Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) Central Intelligence is pretty generic and basic, as is the case with many buddy comedies these days. Accountant Calvin (Kevin Hart) never really went anywhere big with his life after his popularity and success in high school. Enter Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), the former high school loser, turned jacked up, unicorn loving, bike riding dude. The duo reconnect through Facebook and agree to meet up one evening, becoming friends in the process, especially after Bob fights off a couple of thugs to defend Calvin. It turns out that Bob is actually a CIA agent and soon Calvin gets pulled into a plot to save the free world.
Told you it was generic.
But where the film may falter in terms of story and originality, it more than makes up for it through the chemistry of the two leads. Kevin Hart is often a rather acquired taste, many being put off by his loud and shrill delivery and somewhat lowest common denominator comedy style, but here he works fantastically with Dwayne Johnson, who is the star of the show. The script causes Johnson’s character to flip-flop in terms of motivations and personality, but Johnson is always game, bringing the laughs and lighting up the screen. He serves well in the action sequences too as a believable bad-ass agent, but it’s the direction that lets these parts of the film down as they feel rather rushed and simplistic. Hart’s more grounded role in comparison to Johnson’s is an enjoyable change of pace for the comedy mega-star; he has some great lines which are delivered excellently and his physical comedy is also on point.
There are some great bit part roles too, both Jason Bateman and Kumail Nanjiani (of Silicon Valley fame) show up for some hilarious scenes and there’s one great cameo right at the end which I won’t spoil for you.
The first half of the film delivers some big laughs and some steady storytelling and plot progression, setting up both the leads nicely and establishing Calvin’s back story in particular very well. But the film trails off a little in the second half and becomes a bit too focused on the ‘save the world’ spy story, trying to jam jokes in rather awkwardly. But there’s more than enough to satisfy on the whole. However there are some nice character moments throughout. Johnson’s Stone used to be an overweight, bullied kid who was embarrassed horrendously in high school and was never thought to have many credentials going forward, and the big guy clearly isn’t as over it as he thinks. This leads to some tender moments and some exploration into what success means and how we perceive bullies and bullying. An interesting change of pace for the film, even if it can’t fully explore this or resist some average to bad jokes along the way.
Overall, Central Intelligence is a good comedy, led by two fantastic lead performances from Johnson and Hart but it struggles against its own script and direction at times, meandering itself into the unoriginal. However it’s worth the price and will send you home with more than a big smile on your face.
Central Intelligence (2016), directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures. Certificate 12A.