Movie review: ‘Central Intelligence’ more than just a spy movie
At first glance, the shot-in-Massachusetts “Central Intelligence” seems to be one of those dumb summer action-comedies. But like the movie’s spy-game plot, there’s more than meets the eye.
The film from director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“We’re the Millers”) not only has a brain, but loads of heart and humor.
It all starts with the odd-couple leads: Jacked action-hero Dwayne Johnson (“San Andreas”) and diminutive motor-mouthed comedian Kevin Hart (“Ride Along”). They play former high school classmates whose lives have taken opposite tracks. In the 20 years since graduation, Johnson’s Bob Stone has gone from being the target of bullies to becoming one of the government’s most-lethal assassins. Contrarily, Hart’s once uber-popular Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner has been on the slide ever since graduation, going from “most likely to succeed” to an unfulfilled desk-jockey accountant. But he’s still a stud in the eyes of Bob, who will never forget Calvin being his lone protector in high school.
Now, in the days leading up to their 20-year reunion, Calvin’s life is about to get a whole lot more exciting, as he finds himself dragged into Bob’s latest mission to track down the armed-and-dangerous Black Badger, a mystery man plotting to sell vital U.S. secrets to terrorists.
The duo’s “Mutt ‘n’ Jeff” stature is worth its weight in sight gags alone, with some inspired proportion shots pairing the 6-foot-5 Johnson with the 5-foot-4 Hart. But the script by Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen digs much deeper, delving into issues of bullying, friendship and the uncertainty of adult life.
The story is painfully predictable and contrived, but Hart and Johnson make such an endearing pair, it’s hard not to go along for the ride.
The movie opens with a flashback to 1996 at Central High School, where Bob Stone becomes the bullied victim of a humiliating senior prank. To his rescue comes Hart’s Calvin, the only student to take pity on Bob. Cut to two decades later and Bob, despite being a chiseled killing machine, is still socially awkward.
He also still idolizes Calvin, even though his hero’s glory days have long since passed. And it’s getting worse. He’s passed over for a promotion and his high-school-sweetheart wife (Danielle Nicolet) just signed them up for marriage counseling. The script tangles up an unsuspecting Calvin in Bob’s rogue investigation, one in which you never know who’s the real bad guy. Bullets fly and high-speed chases ensue, as a team of CIA agents led by Amy Ryan are in hot pursuit.
In typical male-bonding fashion, Calvin and Bob reconnect with each passing situation. Thanks to Bob, Calvin finds his mojo returning. Ditto for Bob. Calvin helps him to finally reconcile what happened to him way back when.
Aaron Paul plays another agent, and in one of the film’s funniest moments, gives a shout-out to his “Breaking Bad” character by uttering Jesse’s favorite B-word. Another celebrity cameo at the end of the movie is also a blast. And, no one plays smarmy like Jason Bateman. “Central Intelligence” is fun while it lasts, with some big laughs and warm goofiness. Hart, playing it somewhat straight for once, is a riot, and Johnson proves he has a knack for light comedy.
Plus, his behemoth biceps alone are worth the price of admission.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
(PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language)