Central Intelligence follows the long tradition of “Buddy Cop” movies, pulling off humor, action, and a mismatched pair of heroes who must learn to work together. It pairs this formula with a Mission: Impossible style “Spy on the Run” plot; the film’s biggest weakness. While the plot doesn’t always click, Dwayne (formally “The Rock”) Johnson and Kevin Hart certainly do, with “Buddy Cop” chemistry we haven’t seen the likes of since Hot Fuzz.
Note: Yes, I realize neither Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), nor Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) are cops, but Bob Stone is a CIA Agent on the run (with a name that fits his line of work perfectly) while Calvin is dragged into the action in a movie that still feels more “Buddy Cop” than any other sub-genre. Now that we have that clarification out of the way…Central Intelligence works best when it’s all jokes. Johnson and Hart are hilarious together, with this film perhaps being Johnson’s most funny thus far. It was this pairing, not the unoriginal plot, that had me excited to see the film and this aspect of the film certainly delivers! Johnson is side-splittingly-funny as the muscle bound CIA Agent Bob Stone whose personality does not fit his ripped facade. Bob Stone still has a chip on his shoulder from being the fat kid who was humiliated in High School, also never outgrowing his nerdy personality, to a point where he still loves and wears a Unicorn shirt… and a fanny pack… as a CIA Agent…
Meanwhile, Kevin Hart plays “the straight man,” in a very broad sense of the word, as he too is at the top of his comedy game. The exact opposite of Bob, Calvin was the coolest kid in school, voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” yet 20 years later he doesn’t want to attend his High School Reunion as he has amounted to an accountant in a building with an inflatable gorilla out front. Yikes.
Bob clings to Calvin because 20 years later he still doesn’t have any friends, all because he has misconstrued an accepted friend request on Facebook as an invitation to bug Calvin, not unlike Jim Carry in The Cable Guy. Of course, Bob is more than the clingy loner Calvin and thinks he is; he is instead a CIA Agent on the run who needs Calvin’s accountant expertise to track and stop the sale of satellite coordinates before the CIA catches up with him. The plot may be weak, with all the clichés and twists you expect, but the humor is what makes this movie work.The supporting cast is full of great actors and comedians, including Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Kumail Nanjiani, Melissa McCarthy, and an incredibly funny role for the incomparable Jason Bateman. All add a nice flavor and a bit more comedy into the mix (Aaron Paul even gets to say “Bitch,” immediately calling to mind his Breaking Bad catch-phrase, intentional or not). Calvin’s fear and resistance to being pulled into Bob Stone’s world, including his interactions with Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and inexperience/fear of danger make for some funny laughs, but nothing tops the glee of Bob as he goes about his violent business with a big smile on his face and a bigger fanny pack on his waist!
The weakness here is the aforementioned plot and an unbalanced ratio of humor to action. The action is great, but similar to nearly every “Buddy Cop” movie since the 2nd Rush Hour film, the comedy seems to outweigh the action. The action isn’t bad, there just isn’t very much of it, though when there is, it does call to mind films like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop. Yes, the comedy to action ratio is no accident on the filmmakers’ part; Central Intelligence is best billed as a comedy first, with the action being more of the icing on this Johnson/Hart cake. This is more a personal pet peeve of mine; I wish other modern “Buddy Cop” style movies like The Other Guys and even Hot Fuzz put more focus on action and a realistic world while still sporting great comedic moments like Lethal Weapon,Beverly Hills Cop, and even Rush Hour.If more of a comedy is what you’re looking for, and you enjoy the antics of the now fun-loving Dwayne Johnson (whose older movies used to take him too seriously; The Rock’s a funny dude) and/or the comedy stylings of Kevin Hart (Get Hard comes to mind as the closest comparison), then you will love Central Intelligence. It is exactly the film as advertised by its great trailers. If you’re looking for a more traditional 80’s “Buddy Cop” movie, this still isn’t it, but that’s not a deal breaker. The chemistry and comedy are great, the supporting cast is solid, as is the action (if only there was more of it…).
Central Intelligence certainly takes a little Hart and a big Johnson to make for a pretty successful summer flick. Hopefully what follows is a long line of comedy roles for the artist formally known as “The Rock.”