Central Intelligence (2016)

Genres - Action, Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Action Comedy, Buddy Film, Crime Comedy, Odd Couple Film  |   Run Time - 114 min.  |   Countries - Canada, China, United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Tim Holland

It seems like a funny idea for a movie: cast manic Kevin Hart as a milquetoast accountant and fast-and-furious Dwayne Johnson as a rogue (and perhaps psychotic) yet sensitive CIA agent -- one who fancies leather fanny packs and T-shirts with powder-blue unicorns, and who idolizes Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles -- and have the two trade witty banter as they dodge a barrage of bullets while trying to bring down an international baddie known as the Black Badger before he steals U.S. satellite encryption codes. Hart can drag out his usual high-energy frenzied shtick, while the Rock will play against type and embrace his inner girlishness. For good measure, sprinkle in a few well-placed cameos and -- voila! -- you have the recipe for a summer comedy smash.

Yes, it sounds delightful, and that's likely why New Line Cinema green-lit what seems on paper like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a good, if not exactly inspired, setup and the casting of two usually reliable stars aren't enough to spin comic gold. You need a solid, funny script for that, which Central Intelligence doesn't come close to possessing. It also doesn't help that Johnson, an actor of very limited range, doesn't have the comedic chops necessary to pull off what is required here. This is a role Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson could have done in their sleep several years ago, and it would have been a hoot. Johnson, however, isn't believable -- or funny -- for a second. He tries too hard and the strain shows. Hart fares better, but only slightly. He is a gifted comic actor, but he's given little to do other than look scared, scream, and play the straight man to his mismatched co-star. It's a typical fish-out-of-water performance that we've seen at least a half-dozen times now from Hart, and it's growing tiresome.

The movie gets off to a promising start with a flashback in which Johnson's Robbie Weirdicht is an obese teen belting out in En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" in a high-school locker-room shower. A gang of bullies grab him and throw him, naked, across the gym floor during a pep rally. Fortunately, Calvin "The Golden Jet" Joyner (Hart), the biggest man on campus, gives Robbie his letterman jacket to hide his privates. Cut to 20 years later: Calvin, now a bored office drone, is friended on /Facebook by Robbie, and the two reconnect over drinks and a bar brawl. Robbie, now a muscular stud in jorts who goes by the name Bob Stone, asks Calvin for some accounting help and then crashes overnight on his sofa. The next morning, a humorless CIA honcho (the always reliable Amy Ryan) informs Calvin that Bob is a bad-apple agent who killed his partner and is out to betray his country by selling top-secret codes. Bob tries to convince him that he's actually gone rogue in order to save the day, but Calvin doesn't know who to trust.

Lots of gunplay, over-the-top stunts, and silly shenanigans ensue, but none of them produce the desired fun or thrills they are designed to deliver. Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, and an uncredited comedy superstar pop up in cameos, but even they can't punch life into this lame misfire. You know a movie is desperate for laughs when it relies heavily on profanity and crass sexual references, as is the case here. Parents should note the PG-13 rating and take it seriously before buying tickets for their preteen kids.

Central Intelligence does boast an important message about bullying and the effects it can have on someone's life, even decades later. But that's not why you go see a Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson buddy comedy: You go to laugh. Sadly, you won't get much of a chance here.