From the Archives: Central Intelligence review

From the Archives: Central Intelligence review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have the makings of the next great comedy duo. From their cartoonish size difference to the way that Hart’s manic energy plays off of Johnson’s undeniable charm, the interplay between them could be tweaked a million different ways for a million different movies. Central Intelligence is far from the pinnacle of what could spawn from their combined talents, but it’s a solid indicator that this won’t be the last time these two wonderful talents are paired. Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the class of 1996’s ‘Most Likely to Succeed’. He married his high school sweetheart, and despite his relative success, feels like he’s spent the last two decades underperforming. Johnson plays Robby Weirdicht (say it out loud), the overweight, friendless weirdo who, since disappearing from school after a particularly cruel bullying incident, has spent his time morphing himself into, well, The Rock. On the eve of their 20 year class reunion, Joyner and Weirdicht (now calling himself Bob Stone) reconnect over some beers and then end up in a zany convoluted plot involving the CIA, double agents, and madcap tomfoolery. Ya know, like a movie.

The plot is way too convoluted and seems to go out of its way to avoid too much story, which is a shame considering that there is a touching tale about self-acceptance simmering under the surface. If the script were to lean into these moments as opposed to glancing off of them into hackneyed action sequences, something special could have emerged. It’s certainly not the end of the world, as I do wonder if a heavier movie may have weighed down the laughs, but I can’t help feeling that there’s a missed opportunity here. Both Hart and Johnson are better actors than they often have the chance to showcase, and had Central Intelligence attempted to take us down a more emotional path, I think it could have worked.

The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan as a no-nonsense CIA agent, and Aaron Paul as Johnson’s former partner, as well as a few cameos that are too much fun to spoil. Each brings to the table what we expect of them, and all seem to get the joke. Amy Ryan would do well to dip into comedy more often. She’s the one character who seems to be clinging to real world sensibilities, and it works like gangbusters.

The characters aren’t all on the same wavelength, however, and it makes for some tonal frustration. A lot of prominent characters make baffling decisions, or behave in ways that call into question what type of world in which this film takes place, but even though these tonal discrepancies threaten to divorce the viewer from playing along, it’s probably better not to try and apply reason into (Bob Stone does plenty of downright certifiable things that are inaccurately framed as adorable … but it’s usually funny, so whatevs). It helps to remember that a movie like this only has two functions: to evoke laughter, and to provide a framework for our lead duo to have fun. This contract is made very clear in the marketing, and Central Intelligence does the job commendably well. As I said before, if this is the dawn of the next great comedy duo, and it could be, I’m a happy filmgoer.

It’s not difficult to see why Kevin Hart and The Rock are two of the biggest stars in the world right now. Not only are both extremely talented performers, but they’re both great role models – each an advocate for hard work, kindness, and charity. Even when a piece of their work is not particularly suited to my tastes, the enthusiasm that explodes from these guys is joyful and infectious, and it’s always worthwhile to get swept up in it. I’m never not rooting for them. One need only look at the raucous outtakes reel that plays over the end credits to see how much fun these two goofballs were having.

Yeah, Central Intelligence is very dumb, very weird, and plot-heavy to a fault, but it’s also light-hearted, well-intentioned, and frequently very funny. It’s precisely the mindless tonic that such a potently upsetting news week has called for.

Central Intelligence opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site.

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