Central Intelligence review

Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart look to strike comedy gold in Central Intelligence. Spoiler: they don't.

Personally, I’m amazed that Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson have time to sneeze, yet alone fit in a movie together, such is the prolific workrate of the pair of them. Two of the most industrious actors in Hollywood have thus now come together for an R-rated comedy from Dodgeball and We’re The Millers director Rawson Marshall Thurber. They;re popping off to remake Jumanji next.

The conceit of this one though owes just a little to the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies of the late 80s and 90s, in that it’s Johnson who’s playing against type. We first meet his and Hart’s character in their high school days, with Hart the popular, loved by everybody Calvin Joyner, and Johnson the overweight, bullied kid. Fast forward 20 years, and Calvin is an accountant with marriage problems, whilst Johnson’s Robbie Weirdicht has become unicorn-loving gentle giant Bob Stone. He’s the happy, beamingly-positive, overly friendly former school friend, and Johnson gets good mileage by playing against his action persona (although I’d argue he has a gift for comedy anyway).

But then it starts to go wrong. Because Bob Stone is actually a CIA agent (or is he?), and he drags Joyner into his world, all whilst building up to the pair’s high school reunion. It all feels like a bit of a forced set up in truth, but then complaining about a forced set up in a high concept comedy is barely worth the breath.

There are a couple of things that really count against the film, though.

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Firstly, it just isn’t funny enough. The jokes on the page primarily fall flat through the movie, and that’s a surprise, given the comedy pedigree of director Thurber. For Hart, his dialogue is certainly a step up from the dreadful Get Hard, and he injects customary gusto and sheer hard work into his performance. But if a comedian as gifted as Hart can’t make the lines work, there’s surely a deeper problem.

Furthermore, I think there’s a slightly unpleasant edge to Central Intelligence. The opening sequence, as we see Johnson’s character relentlessly bullied in front of his classmates, is rightly and deliberately uncomfortable. But I never shook the feeling that the film was still asking us to join in a little, even when it returns to address such moments later in the film.

The plot, too, is cumbersome. Several times we get sequences where Johnson and Hart are surrounded by people with guns, and you end up shrugging, accepting that a few more shoot outs are going to take place before the film moves on. For a movie with a fair few action moments, it has precious few ideas about how to vary those action sequences in the first place.

But then the big factors in Central Intelligence’s favour are on the poster. Considering that at least one of them is on screen for basically the entire running time of the movie, it’s a good job that both Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson are such good company. Their interplay is fun, and there’s a sense that they’re dragging the movie uphill through its numerous weaker moments.

Central Intelligence also commits the cardinal sin of the movie comedy: the funniest moments are the outtakes you get over the end credits. Thus, whilst I’m pleased they were there, they can’t help but highlight the deficiencies in the rest of the film.

A pretty unambitious project this, that satisfies neither as a comedy or an action movie. It’s not terrible, or anywhere close to it. It’s just so instantly forgettable, is on a constant hunt for more laughs than it has to offer, and fails to fully do justice to a pair of gifted performers who I’d wager could have shot two films apiece in the time it took to make this one.

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2 out of 5