Central Intelligence (2016) by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Review by Lydia Creech
I’m going to tell you a secret: I thought Central Intelligence was funnier than The Nice Guys, the other buddy-cop type movie of the summer. It may not be as tightly scripted a thriller, but the chemistry (and role-reversal) Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart bring to the screen is delightful, and it felt good to laugh at something not coming from a dark place.
Hart plays Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner, who is shown at the beginning of the film receiving a “Most Likely to Be Successful” award right before high school graduation. He’s popular and driven and well-liked, and everyone is sure he’ll go far! Cut to twenty years later, right before high school reunion, and he is stuck in a mid-level position at an accounting firm, feeling like he may have peaked all those years ago. Johnson, on the other hand, plays Robbie Weirdicht, who starts the film as a friendless fat kid and the victim of a very cruel prank by the high school bullies. Now, he’s grown up to be The Rock (and a CIA agent), and he never forgot Hart’s small act of kindness to him — leading him to looking Calvin up and inviting him out for a drink. Soon Hart is involved in international espionage and black market deals and double crossings and satellite codes.
It doesn’t really matter. The spy plot is a little bit nonsense and thin, but what does shine through is the charisma and comedy prowess of the two leads. Johnson’s Robbie is a cheerfully weird dude, who wears a fanny pack and likes unicorns, and you can tell Johnson’s having a blast playing against type. Hart makes a great straight man, far less shriek-y and gay-panicky and Napoleon-complex-y than I’ve seen him before (well, a little bit those things, but less). So, even if you find his usual style annoying, he’s worth checking out here. Together, they play off each other’s comedic personas to produce several laugh-out-loud moments.
This is the main difference between the laughs from Central Intelligence and The Nice Guys. I certainly smirked at the jokes in The Nice Guys; it’s a movie that shines a light on human ugliness and absurdity and tells us we’re better than the characters. Central Intelligence’s jokes may poke fun at Robbie’s weirdness or Calvin’s “fish-out-of-water” status, and it unabashedly goes for the sentimental ending, but it’s a sentimentality that feels earned. Calvin and Robbie want to do the right thing, and it’s not pettiness or incompetence or laziness that prevents them. The comedy isn’t mean-spirited or punching down, and, you know, sometimes it’s nice to take a break from bleak and grim.
Ultimately, Central Intelligence may not display the same level of craft or acerbic verbal wit that The Nice Guys does, but it is the perfect light summer fun. I would be happy to see another Johnson/Hart pairing in the future, perhaps with a stronger plot to go along with their talent. In the meantime, Central Intelligence can be a palette cleanser before the next batch of black comedies.