“Central Intelligence” crashes into theaters as a giant summer buddy flick, and it delivers on most levels with biceps, fights, smashing stuff, guy-humor, gunfire, a little CIA intrigue and even some nerd-revenge on high school bullies. While it’s not a laugh-a-minute, it’s more of an heir to classic cop-mystery-comedy hybrid buddy flicks like “48 Hours.”
Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner, a former high school superstar who hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential 20 years after his days as “The Golden Jet.” His accounting job isn’t where he thought he would be, and his beautiful wife (Danielle Nicolet), thinks they need counseling.
Dwayne Johnson is Bob Stone, who was known as Robby back in high school, when bullies tossed his formerly overweight, naked body out on the gym floor during an assembly. Stone never recovered emotionally but he apparently spent the past 20 years in the gym and came out looking like The Rock. Bob has really changed on the outside, but not much on the inside. Or has he? Or hasn’t he? The screenplay and Johnson keep the audience guessing about whether Bob is friend, foe, or just freak.
Following the twisting plot is like being strapped in a car and zooming through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland; up and down, jerking left and right, but it’s really fun. And right up until the very end, we aren’t really sure exactly who Bob Stone is: the CIA agent trying to save the world, or the conniving murderer trying to use his old friend’s accounting skills to pull off a global crime of treason.
Hart and Johnson have the requisite chemistry every buddy flick needs. One like this – with the huge guy calmly executing one crazy feat after another while the smaller guy freaks out – can easily deteriorate into caricatures but that doesn’t happen here. Both actors are talented enough to give their respective characters depth and even a little edge. Hart easily carries the film, while Johnson gets an opportunity to be very muscled and very funny.
This is not the thinking-man’s buddy film by any stretch, but it might be the “feeling” man’s buddy film. Hart’s subtlety as an actor navigates the Oprah-fication of his midlife disappointment in himself, and the moments when Johnson deals with the emotional scars of his teenage bullying victimization are pretty progressive for a “guy movie.” The emotional component of this manly man film is sort of like the great window-smashing fist fight between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in the middle of “Bridget Jones Diary” – surprisingly, it’s not out of place. In fact it adds a nice balance.
In that old nod to 1981’s “Cannonball Run,” the end credits roll over a blooper reel that isn’t as funny as the actual movie, which is a compliment to the screenplay co-written by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball,” “We’re the Millers”).
“Central Intelligence” is a big cartoon caper that is a heck of a lot of fun, and for fans of the buddy picture genre, Dwayne Johnson or Kevin Hart, or any combination of the above, it will likely hit most of the right notes.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
What: “Central Intelligence”
Starring: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Rated: PG-13 for violence, profanity, some mature themes.
Running time: 114 minutes
The lowdown: On the eve of their 20-year reunion, a former high school star is visited out of the blue by a classmate who now works for the CIA and the two become embroiled in a CIA plot.