‘Central Intelligence’ is about as down-the-middle and distinctly average as mainstream comedies get. Although it’s a buddy action/comedy with Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – who are a particularly famous duo to trot out on the big screen these days – the script could have been written for pretty much any two comic actors of opposite physical and personality types… and probably was.
The action is pedestrian. The jokes range from groaners to gentle gigglers. The leads are charming in ways that don’t stretch their well-established personas, and a few high profile comedy cameos pick up the laugh slack every now and then. It’s fine. It’ll pass the time. But to be honest, you might wonder if you’ve already seen the movie before the credits roll since it’s so similar to so many that have come before.
Things starts off with a high school flashback where CGI transforms Kevin Hart into an athletic/academic 18-year-old dynamo that everyone loves, while Dwayne Johnson is an awkward fattie that everyone hates (especially after being tossed naked into the gym during an assembly). We then cut ahead 20 years and Calvin (Hart) is stuck in a rut working as an accountant, wondering when his life went from heroic to average. On the eve of his 20th high school reunion, he gets a Facebook friend request from a mysterious stranger who turns out to be Bob (Johnson), now looking and acting like The Rock that he truly is. Turns out that Bob became obsessed with Calvin after an act of high school kindness, and that obsession was matched only by a similar obsession with getting ripped and becoming a secret agent killing machine.
Next thing you know, Bob is unwittingly pulled into Calvin’s latest international espionage operation. He’s being pursued by his own agency and needs an accountant he can trust to clear his name and save the world. Do you think this might be the exact type of buddy-making adventure that Bob needs in order to climb out of his personal rut? Hmmmmm… I wonder.
Yeah, it’s pretty basic buddy movie stuff. The action plot is convoluted, dumb and almost impossible to follow, but that doesn’t matter too much since it’s all just a MacGuffin that forces Hart and Johnson to make friends and engage in mild gunplay. ‘Dodgeball’ director Rawson Marshall Thurber handles the shoot ’em up action with competence, but was likely hindered by budgetary and content restrictions and never raises that material out of the generic. The film works best when Thurber is able to dabble in the surreal and oddball humour of his debut hit. It has a handful of genuinely funny lines and sequences peppered throughout. They typically involve surprise cameos that Warner Bros. has politely asked critics to keep quiet about, so I will. However, these are all folks who often cameo-it-up, so don’t expect to ever be too surprised.
As is the way with buddy action flicks, the movie coasts by on the charisma and chemistry of its stars, and ‘Central Intelligence’ at least cast those parts well. Kevin Hart does the repressed geek thing and freaks out in loud, screaming, improvised tangents that are amusing without ever being show-stopping. He’s fine, if maybe mildly miscast as docile and is mostly there for little guy/big guy visual gags with the real star of the movie. Dwayne Johnson continues his streak of adding genuine movie star presence and self-deprecating humor to mediocre movies. He’s fantastic here, doing the action stuff with ease and delivering a gleeful body builder optimist with a fanny pack in a manner that recalls his tongue-in-cheek off-screen persona more than his alpha male action shtick. The guy is damn good at this sort of thing and, as usual, transcends the movie around him.
In fact, watching Johnson goof around and blow stuff up with Boy Scout charm, I couldn’t help but wonder why Warner doesn’t just cast him as Superman right now. Since the mopey Zack Snyder take on the character has proven unpopular, Johnson would be the perfect antidote. He could play into the impossible perfection of Supes with gentle irony that would cool the character’s dated extremes. Filmmakers could lean into his Samoan/African American heritage to play off the immigrant story built into the Superman myth. He wouldn’t have to change his appearance at all – even the bald head would give the 1930s poster boy a contemporary sheen. Just put the guy in tights and he’s a perfect Superman to hinge a DC universe around in the Marvel movie era. (Let’s face it, the guy is basically a living Marvel Studios hero already with the self-conscious humor built into his actual personality and larger than life stature built into his actual physicality.)
The fact that I just derailed this review to make an argument about why Dwayne Johnson should play Superman speaks directly to how little there actually is to say about ‘Central Intelligence’. It’s fine, just a generic and calculated studio product with very little personality beyond what the stars bring to it through their personas. Rawson Marshall Thurber did what he could to make this the best version of a cookie-cutter action/comedy that this could be, but the project was never going to be more than average. It’s mostly worth seeing for The Rock, who has yet to appear in a movie that lives up to his talents or even be particularly challenged as an actor. That’s fine, though. Elevating generic B-movies with A-budgets is part of his old school action star charm. Hopefully he gets something a little better soon. If not, at least the guy continues to make dull studio movies bearable. That’s something of a public service, so I’ll take it for now.