CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE Review

When I see that Rawson Marshall Thurber is directing a movie and more specifically, a comedy, I feel I know what to expect. That may sound like something of a criticism, but when what you're expecting is a large scale comedy with broad appeal and a surplus of solid laughs expecting something specific isn't necessarily a bad thing. And so, with the release of his latest, the director of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We're the Millers has indeed stayed on track with what we've come to expect from him proving he has a formula and by sticking to it he will continue to produce fun if not forgettable comedies that have strong replay value and serve as a launching pad for on the edge talent or, in this case, interesting duos. It is the combination of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart in this particular situation that elevates Central Intelligence from being more than a serviceable comedy to something of a fuller comedic experience than it might have been in lesser hands. With the standard secret agent premise meaning very little, which is something of a disappointment considering We're the Millers was a stellar comedic idea and not to mention the fact Ike Barinholtz was a contributor on the screenplay, the movie sometimes is overly reliant on the chemistry of its two marquee stars, but it never feels as if the film buckles under the strain of these two guys having to pull stuff out of their asses because the story isn't strong enough to hold up, but more the chemistry between the two leads, the dynamic they create, and the downright hysterical and restrained characters they have crafted for themselves so overpowers the weaker narrative that Johnson and Hart more or less render the plot unnecessary. I mean, of course it is necessary considering we need a beginning, a middle, and an end with a source of conflict to drive our characters to a climactic point in which they might both conquer their personal and professional fears and come out all the better for it in the end, but that is to be expected. What can be hit or miss is just how fun the journey can be made to this familiar destination and with the confident comedy hand of Thurber guiding them, the dynamite chemistry blowing up in every scene, and The Rock absolutely giving it his all Central Intelligence easily becomes one of those comedies that will be looked back on fondly as the best kind of comfort food.

Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) and Bob Stone (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) reunite after twenty years.
Beginning in 1996 we are introduced to what are the standard archetypes for the most popular kid in school via Kevin Hart's Calvin "The Golden Jet" Joyner as well as the fat loser via The Rock's Robert Weirdicht who comes to be known as Bob Stone. During the final pep rally of their senior year Calvin is being presented with an award that is a culmination of all of his high school achievements while Bob is then tossed out onto the middle of the basketball court in nothing but his birthday suit for all the school to see. Calvin is the only one who doesn't laugh, but instead he gives Bob his letterman jacket so he might cover up and leave with whatever dignity he has left. Cut to twenty years later and the big man on campus has become bored in his day job as an accountant and as their twenty year reunion approaches can't help but to wonder what happened with his life while finding himself longing for the glory days more and more. Not all is bad as he ended up marrying his high school sweetheart and the hottest girl in their class, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but their marriage has hit a rough patch and Calvin seems to have buried a lot of his regret over never having children. Cue the return of Bob Stone who now looks like The Rock we all know and love. No longer the bullied overweight geek he was in high school, Bob has become a lethal CIA agent who has returned home not necessarily to attend the reunion, but more to recruit Calvin and his "sweet accounting skills" to help him crack a case that cost his partner his life. Calvin isn't privy to any of this information though when Bob sends him a random friend request on Facebook one day. It is only as we get to know Bob a little better that we also take a few steps backward and begin to fill in the bigger picture of how deep Bob has gone down the rabbit hole and how far he might be willing to go to get out of it. As Calvin uncovers as much with the audience, unraveling bits and pieces of both Bob's story as well as hearing an opposing account of the events from Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) who has been tasked with tracking down Bob and recovering the information he has obtained on a flash drive. From the outset, it is clear where things are headed and how events will likely resolve, but it is in the relationship that Calvin and Bob form that these predictable events hold a certain kind of vigor and therefore carry a fresh sense of energy.

While Kevin Hart's Calvin is certainly something of a different type for the normally spastic comedian to play he does a fine job of portraying the straight man in this comedic relationship who is both more vulnerable and more deadpan than any character Hart has played before it is still The Rock who steals every scene in which he appears. Though the initial scene in which we meet Bob and Calvin is here to simply set in motion the dynamic of Bob's adoration for Calvin and Calvin's inevitable plateau it is the first scene in which they are reunited that we catch a real glimpse of just how charming and simultaneously enigmatic The Rock is going to be here. Wearing a baby blue t-shirt adorned with a unicorn and a saying akin to a cat poster along with a fully loaded fanny pack, and jorts to complete the ensemble Bob Stone is an amalgamation of a child's mentality in the way he idolizes the only other kid who found him worthy of acknowledging with the aforementioned affinity for unicorns and cinnamon pancakes only reinforcing as much. That this somewhat innocent and naive disposition blends with a love for guns, saving the world, and the ability to take out a handful of foes at the same time makes Bob Stone a seriously interesting individual and The Rock takes advantage of as much by playing each of these qualities to the hilt. Blending his comedic and action talents The Rock is able to convey this outwardly goofy and rather odd individual who presents a fairly gullible facade while concealing the fact he can be a walking killing machine if the situation calls for it. Everything The Rock chooses to do here in terms of timing and delivery feels immediately warranted as something of a classic comedic moment and yet, in the end, the film doesn't remain nearly as quotable and by default quite as memorable as imagined while in the midst of the moment. Why this is so is unclear after a single viewing, but as with Thurber's two previous comedies I can only imagine the more I see of Central Intelligence the more that "classic moment" mantra will feel appropriate. This is very much a movie with a strong re-watchability factor that is understandably average in what it sets out to accomplish, but somehow comes to surpass even those most basic of requirements.

Bob then pulls his best friend in the world (even though Calvin is unaware of this fact) into the middle of a CIA operation.
In that Central Intelligence more than fulfills what it sets out to be it is hard to then justify making any complaints against it and admittedly there are very few as more than anything I had a fun, care-free time while experiencing the film. Sure, Thurber may be something of a novice when it comes to directing action and many of the action scenes here feel amateur in scope and unassured in how exactly to capture such a behemoth as The Rock doing his thing while the final showdown does have a depressingly pedestrian nature to it, but this isn't enough to detract from the film overall as Thurber is able to focus in on the comedy that is elicited during these scenes rather than focusing solely on the action. That the action and choreographed fights are not the central focus of a given scene allow for gags and asides that become more than as much so as to become winning running gags elevate the material while at the same time constantly utilizing that dynamite chemistry between its leads to distract the audience even further from the lesser aspects of the film. Of course, the biggest assets Thurber has are his two leading men and that he doesn't only use them as a soundboard for jokes, but in that the script outlined what I assume was a strong enough template for the actors to come in and create living, breathing people out of says a lot about the quality of what we end up with as the final product. Most audiences know going into and anticipate with comedies that the plot and the story will likely mean very little, but that it is the characters that will make or break whether we decide to remain invested in what will undoubtedly be a familiar set of obstacles, no matter how outlandish the premise seems. Through Hart’s everyman routine he embodies all that Bob wishes he could be and still everything that Bob imagined Calvin would become even though the roles now seem reversed to Calvin as Bob is the exception to the rule everyone told him he was in high school. It’s an interesting and cyclical relationship that works well as Bob’s highs compliment Calvin’s lows and vice versa. It’s a comedic duo of epic proportions and God knows I hope we see more of them in the future.