Movie Review: Central Intelligence

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An unsatisfied accountant, dreaming of his high school glory days, gets caught up in an international spy plot when he reconnects with a high school friend turned CIA agent.

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Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2016

As his high school reunion rapidly approaches, accountant Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) can’t help but feel as though his life hasn’t turned out the way he wanted. He was the most popular kid in school, beloved by teachers and students alike, and good at everything. Now he gets passed over for promotions for much younger guys. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) was horrendously bullied in high school. He reappears in Calvin’s life as a much fitter, more outgoing version of himself, and reminds Calvin of his high school popularity. Calvin floats on the high of this reunion until he discovers that CIA Agent Stone has drawn him into a national security crisis. Bob drags Calvin along through a trail of espionage and bullets, all the while trying to encourage Calvin to find his old confidence again.

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If anyone asks, the tagline had nothing to do with our decision to see the movie. Promise.

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. I half expected it to be full of punching down humour, or the kind of broad laughs that Kevin Hart seems to usually get. Fortunately, Central Intelligence is more, uh, intelligent in its humour than that. Sexism, racism and homophobia become the butt of the jokes, rather than the theme of the jokes. The comedy still goes broad, from slapstick comedy in the middle of action scenes to some subtler humour that hits a moment after the line comes through. Some of the visual humour comes purely from the fact that The Rock is huge and Kevin Hart is a tiny man. The film focuses on the funny far more than the plot, which is thin and unnecessarily complex. There are a few decent action scenes, but they really just kind of distract from the much more fun character-driven comedy scenes. It also contains one of the world’s most predictable twists, which undermines some of the film’s earlier moments where it tries to set Bob up as being potentially untrustworthy. That’s a weird move for a buddy film anyway, so it never really works. The film is actually nicely shot – bright and colourful, with some clever camerawork – but it fails to really give those action scenes the energy they need.

The Rock is fantastic in this, dominating the screen not just with his size but also with the force of his personality. I want Bob Stone to be my friend. He’s such a weird, fun, and singular character, unlike anything else I’ve seen in this kind of comedy before. Before Calvin knows who Bob is, he reads his Facebook profile, which says Bob like unicorns, cinnamon donuts, and guns. Every moment of Bob’s screentime is character-driven, directed by a very clear concept of who he is as a character, and I enjoyed that. Calvin is a little rockier, but Kevin Hart mines some decent jokes from his uptight accountant. Calvin’s wife, played by Danielle Nicolet, really gets the short end of the stick in this movie. She has little to do other than be annoyed with Calvin, which is presented as completely valid, but we never get a sense of her as a person. The only other woman with a major role is Amy Ryan, who is funny and scary as Bob’s CIA boss. Veronica Mars fans, keep an eye out for a certain familiar actor who tends to get typecast as a dick. There is a cameo at the end of the film that is brilliant, and really validates the movie’s messages in a way few films bother with. It’s sweet, it’s adorable, and I don’t understand how it hasn’t blown up the internet, because it’s awesome. Regardless, this is a silly, fun comedy that took me by surprise in a year with a lot of film disappointments.

Central Intelligence on IMDb

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