The bad news about Central Intelligence is that you’ve seen it all before.
It’s a mismatched buddy-buddy pic in the line of heritage that stretches all the way back to 48 Hrs (or back to Two Rode Together, if that’s your bag), and their many, many rip-offs and retreads. It works the racial-difference angle, even though its leads are both, technically speaking, people of colour. And it adds the now obligatory post-Apatow bromantic sweetness element between its male leads, along with what looks like a lot of material improvised on the set. It’s the same movie as Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, released this time last year, and we could probably go back 10 years and find its counterpart in every summer release schedule. Many of them are simply other Kevin Hart vehicles.
The good news about Central Intelligence is that sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks. And that dog would be The Rock, now known exclusively by his real name, Dwayne Johnson, and finally coming clean as a natural-born comic lead. He was always the funniest man in the WWF: no one can forget his raised eyebrow, which was also the only breakout star of Be Cool. We all remember “The Rock Obama”, and he gave good funny in the underrated Get Smart reboot. Here, everything is on a broader scale, but Johnson delivers a complex portrait of courage and brains undermined by childhood bullying.
He and Hart have switched lives since high school. Hart’s Calvin Joyner – then nicknamed “The Golden Jet”, star of track, field and classroom, and voted “the boy most likely to” – is now a bored, married accountant, embarrassed to attend his 20th-anniversary reunion. Johnson’s Bob Stone (born Robbie Weirdicht), back then a friendless oft-humiliated tub of lard, is now a buffed-out mountain of handsomeness who may or may not be in the CIA. But he retains an adolescent high regard for the hero of his old school, and is overly tactile, childlike and nerdly – though he finishes a mean bar fight when one arises, much to Calvin’s bemusement. Kevin Hart, the comedy professional in this set-up, spends most of the movie in scrambling, reactive mode, as Johnson, with his size (especially next to his diminutive co-star), his grace of movement and his megawatt charisma, is its ever-revving V8 engine.
The rest, of course, is everything you’d expect: betrayals, double-crosses, mucho silliness, but the strength of the relationship, and its oddness and sweetness, lend a little extra weight and heft. I’ve completely forgotten it already, though, and I’m now busy wondering what next summer’s version of this movie will be called.
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