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‘Central Intelligence’ Features A Smart Pairing In A Dumb Movie (Movie Review)

central intelligence thumb 2There is a future that will find Central Intelligence playing at various times of day on cable channels over and over again. This lightweight action-comedy starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart has the kind of likable qualities that serve as the same reasons so many remember Rush Hour or various Martin Lawrence movies from the 90s so well. Central Intelligence is not particularly good, but it is the kind of film that will make you laugh every few minutes, helping it to add up to a film that doesn’t seem that bad when it’s all over.

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The premise is somewhat promising, despite a rough start. We start off with a look back at high school days where Hart’s Calvin Joyner was the most popular and smartest guy in school, while Johnson’s Robby Weirdicht is an overweight geek made more disturbing by the use of CG to make this possible. It leads to a moment of ultimate embarrassment at the hands of bullies and leads us into present day.

Obviously the plot will take a turn towards action-comedy, which is made obvious by the strange amount of effort put into establishing just the title of the film, no other credits, just an overlong sequence more fitting for a Bourne knock-off. That really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re The Millers) makes a lot of odd choices that seemingly overcompensate for much of the terrible action direction seen throughout the movie, so it’s worth mentioning.

Anyway, in the present day of this film, Calvin has gone from ‘big man on campus’ to ‘low man on the totem pole’, as he now works as a middling accountant. A random friend request from Robby (now going by Bob Stone), leads to a meetup at a bar. We now see Johnson as he is, a foot taller than Hart and made of muscles. Still, Bob has held onto his geeky teenager glee, even when he reveals to Calvin that he’s CIA and needs help on a mission to save the free world.

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When initially hearing about this film, Johnson had said he based his performance off Tom Hanks in Big and that makes a lot of sense. While the movie doesn’t really work, Johnson is pretty terrific throughout and it is because of how well he holds onto being the kid he was in high school. Bob may have been bullied (and this is definitely the kind of film that will have both a ‘save the world’ scenario and a ‘stand up to the bullies of your past’ scenario happen within the same 24-hour period), but he was always a sweet guy (who loves unicorns).

Hart is also fine. We see a typical Hart character, but placed in the straight man role, which allows him to be a fairly grounded presence, occasionally undone by becoming exasperated. Other actors pop up here to, most notably a game Amy Ryan and some solid cameos, but this really is the Johnson & Hart show. It is because of them that minutes can go by featuring dead air, only for the film to land a line or two of dialogue or a silly reaction shot and have you back onboard to a point.

Sadly, the movie really is quite dumb. The screenplay by Thurber, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen does not rely too hard on plot, as opposed to character, but at the same time, there should be a way to satisfy on both fronts. Not that this is the best example, but Central Intelligence has more than a little in common with the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz action-comedy Knight and Day, with the exception of what it lacks in exotic locations and much better action. Both films actually come up lacking in one aspect that I’ll get to, but Central Intelligence really misses in opting for a schmaltzy approach to tying everything up and being far too obvious in where it is headed.

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The place where it comes up lacking is the lack of any effort to subvert expectation. From the second we meet Bob, I never had doubts about who I was watching. Being a lightweight comedy, I get that Central Intelligence really only has to be mildly entertaining to succeed, but since nearly every mainstream comedy since The Cable Guy is afraid to play a charismatic star against type, the film has to rely on whether or not you like the jokes. As far as how important it is to see this movie, I really didn’t find it that funny and never being confused about Bob’s motivations really didn’t help.

With a reliance on a lot of clichés (with the surprising exception of damsel in distress) and a joke-heavy screenplay that only lands some of the time, Central Intelligence really only works for the film’s big star pairing. They make up a large majority of the movie, so there is enjoyment to be had, but probably best had when you find it while channel surfing. Johnson’s winning smile and persona is a huge delight here and goes well with Hart’s manic nature, but the film needs more than just a spark in the chemistry.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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