June 17, 2016
It was only a matter of time before the two hardest working actors in Hollywood teamed up.
Dwayne Johnson (in a fat suit) is Robbie Weirdicht, an obese loser whose last name kind of pre-disposes him to being bullied. Kevin Hart is Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner, homecoming king, class president, Most Likely to Succeed, and the only person in school who doesn’t pick on poor Robbie. Fast forward 20 years. Calvin is now a bored accountant and Robbie, who now goes by the much less insult-prone name of Bob Stone, is a rogue CIA super agent. Oh, and thanks to a six-hour a day, every single day for 20 years workout regimen, he looks like The Freaking Rock. When the duo reconnects for their high school reunion, they’re soon embroiled in a top-secret case involving a terrorist plot and stolen codes for… who cares? Central Intelligence is not a movie where that matters. If you want espionage, wait for Jason Bourne.
The crucial element of any buddy comedy is the chemistry of the two leads and the “little Hart/big Johnson” combo is pretty spectacular. The silly CIA case is simply a catalyst to get Kevin Hart to freak the f— out for the next 55 minutes and it’s hysterical. With his high-pitched motor mouth delivery, he’s like a new age Chris Tucker (if Chris Tucker had appeared in a new movie every two months instead of going Friday, Money Talks, three Rush Hours, and done). Hart seems to realize that a comedian’s hit streak is never immortal (see also: Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler) so he’s riding the lightning while it’s hot, and his brand doesn’t appear to be fading any time soon.
The real beauty of Dwayne Johnson’s performance as Bob is the fact that even though he looks like the People’s Champion, he still acts like a big fat dork, sporting a unicorn t-shirt and a fanny pack and referencing Sixteen Candles. He’s hilariously oblivious to smoking-hot women’s attraction to him and he most certainly does not cooly walk away from his orchestrated explosions in slow motion. No, Bob reacts to his feats of strength like a geeked-up action fanboy: “Whoo! That was crazy!” It would have been easy for Johnson to play his typical tough guy or charismatic ladies man but playing Bob as an awkward nerd in a hulk monster’s body is what makes this turn, and the movie, so fun.
While the humor and hijinks make the ridiculous plot bearable, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) does miss out on an opportunity to make this movie truly special with the fight sequences. There’s very little choreography or style to the action with Thurber opting instead for lots of quick cuts and close-ups which is fairly disappointing. However, Bob’s uncanny knack for unexpectedly disappearing and reappearing is fun, especially for such a large dude-– he’s like a giant version of Verill from Mr. Deeds. Most of the slapstick plays really well too as Bob incorporates Calvin into the fighting by either using him as a weapon or slinging him from harm like a ragdoll, all set to a killer ‘90s soundtrack including phat (it’s a ‘90s term) throwbacks from En Vogue, The Offspring, and of course, Biggie Smalls.
There are a few faces you may not expect to show up in a comedy like The Wire’s Amy Ryan as the relentless, no-nonsense CIA manhunter trying to wrangle renegade Bob and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul who plays Bob’s former partner. You totally expect him to end an imperative statement with his trademark “bitch” and it happens(!) which is pretty incredible. There are also multiple surprise cameos that are too good to give away but let’s just say they’re sure to thrill big-time comedy fans. This movie just gives you what you want (alas, no People’s Eyebrow) and that’s non-stop laughs. In fact, several times the entire theater was cracking up so hard at one line that the next few were difficult to hear. There’s even an outtake reel at the end that shows they apparently had as much fun making the movie as you do watching it. Based on the screening moviegoers’ thunderous applause when the credits rolled (which is always a really cool thing) the audience definitely smelled what The Rock… and The Pebble… were cooking.
Star Rating: 3¾ stars out of 5
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