Hollywood’s busiest actor Kevin Hart teams up with Dwayne Johnson for this knockabout buddy comedy about a couple of high school friends (the much loved “most likely to succeed” and the bullied overweight nerd, Hart and Johnson respectively) who form an unlikely pairing to crack a CIA conspiracy.
20 years after Dwayne Johnson’s Robbie Wierdicht (pronounced “weird dick”) was thrown naked across the gym room floor by bullies in front of the entire graduating class, he turns to the only person who helped him that day. The now-CIA operative goes rogue to rekindle his estranged friendship with Kevin Hart’s Calvin Joyner, an ace accountant shunned for promotion by brown nosing colleagues, to uncover who’s behind the sale of US security secrets to terrorists.
I discuss the plot as a matter of courtesy – or perhaps habit – as it really doesn’t exist. The premise is there to hang a bunch of amusing set-pieces between this little and large match-up, the pint-sized comic and the hulk-sized former WWE wrestler. Within that objective, the film succeeds. Hart and Johnson have great chemistry, their on-screen partnership clearly enlivened by a camaraderie off-camera. Much of the comedy originates from the CIA agent’s super-powered James Bond-like heroics and his meek, white-collar companion’s aversion to guns and violence.
Drawn from Hart’s comic brand, and his ability to amusingly point fun at himself often by highlighting the stupidity of racism, there’s some very funny gags, particularly when Johnson references his quick thought and intelligence as being akin to a “chocolate Google”. Later, after he’s cleaned up and ready for the office, he claims to see a “white Will Smith” before him.
Yet, the funniest scene in the film remains its opening, with a digitally transformed Dwayne Johnson, switched from muscular alfa male to fat-bottomed nerd singing and dancing in the school showers. The resemblance to Johnson is weirdly accurate yet disconcertingly cartoonish. It’s a bit mean-spirited but sets up the dynamic which brings our two leads together. It also premises a bit of character development involving a cameo from Jason Bateman but the payoff is one of the film’s few major missteps.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who is responsible for a string of likeable comedies such as We’re The Millers and DodgeBall, gives us another bright, breezy and funny comedy with plenty of lovable heart and the odd moving moment. It probably ranks behind his better efforts because of the limitations of a script that relies on the antics of Central Intelligence’s star pairing. But luckily, both Hart and Johnson are great; a buddy partnership that clicks thanks to the intangible energy produced by genuine chemistry.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Central Intelligence on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK) which released the film on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download in October 2016.