Film Review: ‘Central Intelligence’ and Dwayne Johnson tickle the funny bone

central_intelligence_ver2I know most of you consider Dwayne Johnson to be one of of the iconic new action heroes of our generation, but I think he’s got more to offer than that. Yes, I think he’s also a skilled comedian, capable of a broad comedic range. With the new action comedy Central Intelligence, he’s given one half of a star vehicle to really showcase his lighter side. While Johnson is hilarious and an absolute riot here, co-lead Kevin Hart is more or less his normal annoying self, limiting Johnson’s effectiveness. That’s sort of how the whole thing goes, as co-writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber sees his production constantly take two steps forward, only to immediately have to take one step back. It’s a smaller film, not prone to miss big when it misses, but you get the sense that the flick could have been a classic. When it’s just focused on Johnson’s ridiculous character, Central Intelligence works, it really does. When it insists on balancing the action with the comedy, the ground gets shakier. The end result is a movie that is good enough to recommend, but the non Johnson elements almost wreck it. As such, Central Intelligence can only get a mild recommendation, when one of the lead performances suggests something even better that what we received. It’s a thumbs up, but one that recognizes a missed opportunity all the same.

During his High School days, Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the biggest thing since sliced bread. An all around legend, he was headed for big things, while Robbie (Johnson) was just big, as in obese. The kids picked on Robbie, but Calvin was kind to him during one epic prank. Robbie doesn’t forget this, and when the reunion comes, up Robbie, now Bob Stone, seeks out Calvin, who is an unhappy accountant. Calvin is married to his High School sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but this small life is not what he had hoped for. When the two reconnect, Calvin is shocked to see Bob as the rock (no pun intended) he is today, but even more shocked that he’s still idolized by him. A nice hang out is interrupted when it comes out that Bob works for the CIA and an agent (Amy Ryan) is after him in response to a murder and possible act of treason. Thus, the action elements of this action comedy come to pass. Frankly, the comedy puts the action to shame here in Central Intelligence.

Dwayne-The-Rock-Johnson-is-almost-unrecognisable-in-a-fat-suit-in-trailer-for-new-movie-Central-IntelligenceWithout any question, this is the Dwayne Johnson show. Kevin Hart may be a box office draw these days, but Johnson’s screen presence, charisma, and comedic timing put Hart to shame. To be fair, I think Hart is best in small doses, so it’s an easy choice to prefer Johnson here, but I think everyone will. While Hart does tone down some of his more obnoxious standbys, Johnson just plays the more interesting character. You want to see more from Bob and hear what random thing he says next. Calvin you’re just not compelled by. Johnson is the only one who really gets anything to do here too, as Amy Ryan is absolutely wasted and Danielle Nicolet has nothing to do. I will say that the cameos, including one by Aaron Paul, do work, but they’re small victories. The supporting cast, including Thomas Kretschmann, Phil Reeves, and more, all stand in Johnson’s ample shadow.

Rawson Marshall Thurber is a decent enough director of comedy, but he can’t do action, plain and simple. Whether it’s in the screenplay that he co-wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen or in his own direction, Thurber just isn’t comfortable with bullets flying. To some degree, that’s what keeps Central Intelligence from really soaring. He has an ace up his sleeve in Johnson, but when he stops him from joking around and wants him to save the world, any of the film’s uniqueness goes out the window. It’s a shame too, as especially during the initial reunion between Bob and Calvin, Johnson just gets to surprise you with one thing after another. Had more of the movie been like that, I would have been raving about it and positing the flick as a new comedy gem. Barinholtz, Stassen, and Thurber don’t especially have a funny script here, but they have one that sets things up for strong chemistry, which Thurber cultivates from the director’s chair.

In the end, Central Intelligence works enough to recommend, and that’s all because of Johnson. If you’re a fan of his, especially when it comes to his comedy attempts (more like in The Other Guys or Pain and Gain, rather than The Game Plan or The Tooth Fairy), you’ll like what you have here. Even fans of Hart should be satisfied, since they are actually well matched as foils, it’s just that the script doesn’t do enough with that. Johnson saves the day, both on screen and off, but he’s unable to make this as good as it should have been. Central Intelligence is worth seeing, but keep your expectations in check.

GRADE: (★★★)

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Film Lover

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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