Movie Review: Central Intelligence

A little Hart and a big Johnson: ride-along comedy gets some laughs by having stars playing against type

Central Intelligence


Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Ariana DeFusco, Aaron Paul, Amy Ryan, Megan Park, Brett Azar, Danielle Nicolet, Tim Griffin, Slaine, Jeffrey Corazzini. Written by Ike Barinholtz, Rawson Marshall Thurber, David Stassen.

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A few months after Ride Along 2, and here’s what seems to be the same movie, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson replacing Ice Cube as the tough cop and Kevin Hart reprising his role as the motormouthed sidekick.

In the two Ride Along movies, Cube is a streetwise detective paired with his wannabe-cop brother-in-law, played by Hart, to make for unlikely crime-fighting duo.

And in Central Intelligence, Johnson is CIA agent Bob Stone, who ropes Hart’s mild-mannered accountant Calvin Joyner into tracking down an international arms dealer, for reasons the film explains on no less than four occasions but still fail to make sense.

But here’s the difference: Central Intelligence shakes things up a little bit by reversing the personalities, if not the roles: Johnson’s CIA agent is a big ol’ goofball, with Hart playing the straight man. As straight as he can play him, anyway.

And The Rock is a riot here. It’s his most out-and-out comedic role to date, and seeing him giddily bound about the screen is infectious. Going by Stone’s Facebook profile, he likes unicorns, cinnamon pancakes, and guns. And he hates bullies. Hates ‘em.

You see, back in high school, as the film shows us via prologue, Bob Stone was a goofy, geeky, unpopular fat kid, which the movie accomplishes by grafting Johnson’s face onto another actor’s body. It’s a creepy-looking effect.

And Hart’s Calvin Joyner, well, he was “The Jet” back in high school, star athlete, star student, and homecoming king voted “most likely to succeed” who professes his love to high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) in front of the entire school.

Twenty years later, however, and while Calvin has married that high school sweetheart, they’ve yet to have kids – and he’s been stuck in a dead-end accounting job. Of course, he’s dreading that upcoming high school reunion.

Stone, on the other hand, has turned himself into a Rock by working out six hours a day for the past twenty years. And he’s a top-flight CIA agent and gunsmith and hand-to-hand combat expert who, unfortunately, is now being pursued by his own people, lead by Amy Ryan’s no-nonsense agent.

And for reasons of plot contrivance, he needs the help of Calvin – the only kid in high school who was ever nice to him – to clear his name and uh, save the world. Why not.  

There’s little behind the film’s script, credited to Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber, to separate it from the usual junk of this type. But Johnson’s a gas and even Hart is fun trying to play it straight; at many points, they both wind up being the comic half of the team.

Yet while the stars and their strange chemistry elevate Central Intelligence higher than it has any right to be during most of the running time, the ultra-formulaic plot and extreme length see the movie sputter towards its conclusion; during the final act, this thing hits the get-it-over-with skids.

Some amusing closing-credit outtakes help it end without a too-sour taste, however.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber previously made Dodgeball and We’re the Millers, both better – and funnier – comedies. Central Intelligence is a more toned-down thing than those over-the-top flicks, but Johnson’s comic turn feels like it could have been lifted from either, and makes this worth catching on a rainy day.

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