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Review: Central Intelligence (2016)

Central Intelligence (2016)

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Premise: A middle class accountant (Kevin Hart) who is dissatisfied with his life reunites with and a high school acquaintance (Dwayne Johnson) only to find that his old friend is actually with the CIA and the two are thrust into an international crisis.

What Works: Central Intelligence is a successful blend of action and comedy. The movie was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who had previously helmed Dodgeball and We’re the Millers. Central Intelligence is a step up for Thurber in both the comedy and the action. Recalling last summer’s Spy, this picture has plenty of laughs but it also has shootouts, fights, and chase sequences that are consistent with any other Hollywood action picture. Unlike some other attempts at melding laughs with adventure, Central Intelligence blends those qualities together and achieves a tone that allows for the comedy and action to enhance one another. The story of Central Intelligence is impressive in how many different elements it has and how well it manages to assimilate them. The film begins with a prologue set in high school, establishing it as a certain kind of movie, and then it switches to become a mid-life crisis picture, and then it becomes an espionage action film. The moviemakers are able to transition mostly organically and then keep those elements in play throughout the rest of the story. As an espionage thriller, Central Intelligence isn’t exactly smart but it is clever and more interesting than a lot of straightforward action pictures. It is ambiguous as to whether Dwayne Johnson’s character is really a spy who is onto a conspiracy or if he has gone crazy. The movie plays through the eyes of Kevin Hart’s character in such a way that this mystery is impenetrable until the climax. The performances by the two leads are also notable. Kevin Hart is cast in his usual squirrely beta-male role but he is much better in Central Intelligence than other movies. Hart isn’t nearly as obnoxious as in some of his other roles and he plays an authentic character as someone whose life peaked in high school. Dwayne Johnson is also impressive. He’s experienced at the action material but he’s isn’t afraid to be ridiculous, which the sign of a good actor. Johnson’s character is a masculine action hero who wears a fanny pack and loves unicorns. Johnson has already conquered the action genre but in Central Intelligence he’s able to do what many other action stars could not – meld the comedy with the action.

What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Central Intelligence don’t seem to know quite when to stop. The movie reaches its climax but then it keeps on going with an overextended denouement. For that matter, whenever the film returns to the high school material the story slows down. It works better in the first part of the picture, setting up the backstory between Hart and Johnson’s characters and bringing them together. But once Central Intelligence switches gears and becomes an espionage picture the high school stuff tends to drag, in part because the joke is so one-note. This superspy has undying respect for a lame white collar worker because of a gesture of kindness from twenty years ago. The enthusiasm of Johnson’s character never abates even when Hart’s character fails to live up to his high school image. The filmmakers miss an opportunity to do something more interesting with Johnson’s character and to make him grow. Central Intelligence also squanders the performance by Danielle Nicolet as the wife of Hart’s character. Nicolet is funny but the story doesn’t allow her to contribute meaningfully to the movie. She’s restricted to the role of the nagging wife and the movie misses a chance to do something more interesting with her and the strain in the marriage.  

Bottom Line: Central Intelligence is a fun mix of action and humor. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart make an enjoyable odd couple and the movie satisfies as a comedy and as an action picture.

Episode: #600 (June 26, 2016)