How much one enjoys Central Intelligence depends on how much they enjoy watching The Rock or Kevin Hart. This is not the movie to convert non-fans, but it lets both actors do their thing with a modicum of enjoyment. The movie’s biggest problem is that it never commits to being one kind of movie, instead meandering somewhat among several options. It is saved, however, on the strength of the performances of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, both of whom are excellent here.
Hart is Calvin Joyner, a former High School phenom who is unsatisfied with his life 20 years later. The Rock is Bob Stone, former bullied fat kid who has remade himself as a towering mountain of a man. Bob idolized Calvin in school, and since, and on the eve of their 20 year class reunion comes to him for help; because Bob is in the CIA and needs Calvin’s accounting expertise. Things then go through the usual spy movie tropes as Bob and Calvin work together to overcome their problems. There is nothing particularly new or unexpected here, but what is her is well executed.
There are some problems. For the most part Central Intelligence is sweet. It is a comedy that want’s viewers to like its characters. Calvin is the one person, including the teachers and the principal, who stands up for Bob in his most humiliating moment in High School. Throughout the movie he is shown to be a genuinely good person. Bob is a bit of an unknown, but is largely sweet if more than a little daffy. That tone works, except that the film occasionally drifts into mean spirited Happy Madison shit. (There is a resemblance, if only superficial, to the straight to Netflix Adam Sandler and David Spade misfire The Do-Over, a comparison that makes Central Intelligence look all the better) This is exemplified in Trevor, played by Jason Bateman, who was Bob’s bully in high school and remains a unrepentant bully 20 years later. While there is reason to have that plot, it sticks out tonally from much of the rest of the movie. I don’t know if I love or hate that the two plot threads of this movie, the spy stuff and the reunion, are never connected. It would be ludicrous for them to tie together, if the bully were to be the villain or something, but the two threads are literally disconnected from each other.
At times, the film closes in on having some genuine heart. When the two of them break into their old school and see the shrine to Calvin’s accomplishments, he lament how disappointing his life is and you can almost feel it, but the film bounces off that and moves on to something less compelling. The same goes for Calvin’s marital troubles, which start as though they are going to important rather than just the fodder for a couple of scenes and to be forgotten by the end.
The highlight of the film is Johnson as Bob Stone. Both in the action scenes, which are actually quite good, and in his still trapped in high school persona. There is something undeniably delightful to hear The Rock wax on about his love for unicorns (” ‘corns are the deadliest mythical beast), Twilight and Sixteen Candles. Johnson manages to sell it all. He is a CIA agent how has never lost his hopeful, childlike innocence. He likes what he likes and who are you to tell him to change?
I walked out of the theater mildly disappointed in Central Intelligence, but the more I think about it the more I like it. The better its good moments seem and the bad one sort of fade from my memory. Still, it is far from a perfect film. I would like to see this duo team up again. There is some chemistry between the motor mouthed, diminutive Hart and the gargantuan Rock. This movie gives them just enough to work with to be worth your checking out, at least for those who are already fans.