Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: "Central Intelligence"

I like both Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. They have winning personalities, beaming smiles and great screen presence. I’m not sure if either one of them is nearly as funny as he thinks he is, though.

It’s the same way with “Central Intelligence,” their new buddy cop comedy. It’s an agreeable picture with some outrageous jokes, wacky setups and a few harder-edged action scenes to spice things up. A laugh riot it is not.

Most of the attempted humor comes from Hart playing his type and Johnson playing against type. Hart, by virtue of his diminutive height and comedic personality, is always the nervous nelly trying to front that he is cooler/tougher than he really is. Johnson, playing a lot of hyper-masculine action roles lately, is a dweeb who loves unicorns, fanny packs and cinnamon pancakes.

This really is part of his cover as CIA agent Bob Stone. Formerly the fat kid in high school who was the subject of a cruel prank -- Johnson’s body is digitally morphed onto another actor’s body for the flashback -- he’s grown up into a tower of muscles who can take out a handful of bad guys without even blinking.

There’s no cockiness to him, though, and in fact Bob is in awe of Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart), the BMOC in high school who everyone looked up to. Flash forward 20 years and his promising life has turned into disappointment, a nowhere job in forensic accounting, a fantastic wife (Danielle Nicolet) but no kids. He’s just… stuck.

Bob shows up out of the blue and invites Calvin for drinks, which turns into a bar fight, which turns into a sleepover, which turns into CIA agents showing up on his doorstep claiming Bob is a rogue agent trying to sell vital intelligence to the highest bidder. From there the movie is a series of chases as Calvin tries to decide if Bob is on the level or not, in between fistfights and shootouts.

Amy Ryan plays the grim head spook who leads the hunt, and Jason Bateman turns up in an uncredited role as one of Bob’s former teenage tormentors who seems to have experienced a change of heart.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber from a screenplay he co-wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, “Central Intelligence” is all broad humor and telegraphed punchlines. For instance, when Bob encourages Calvin to replicate the backward flip he was famous for back in the day, we just know it’s going to come in handy during a pivotal fight scene.

They do manage to sneak in a few clever throwaway jokes, such as Bob calling Calvin a “snack-size Denzel” for his performance in fooling some bad guys. I also liked the quip where Calvin, after first witnessing Bob in action, refers to his non-badass attire, dubbing him “Jason Bourne in jorts.”

I can’t quite recommend this movie, but I didn’t hate it. It just needed to be funnier and not take aim at the most obvious jokes possible. Sass and charisma will only take you so far.

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