Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This buddy comedy has a lot of violence as the main characters face off against the CIA, with chase scenes, hand-to-hand combat, someone’s throat ripped out, people dying by gunfire, and a character is tortured and we see the after-effects on his body. There is a strong anti-bullying message, including a scene in which a naked, overweight teenager is embarrassed in front of the entire school by a group of bullies. Also some cursing and sexually themed jokes; adults drinking to excess; characters in a committed relationship kiss; and there are some nude male butts on display.
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart give ‘Central Intelligence’ all the charisma they can, and through their combined sheer force of will, this comedy works. It’s familiar enough to be obvious, but together, Johnson and Hart are wonderfully bizarre.
By Roxana Hadadi
It never really seems like Kevin Hart is playing different characters. In “Ride Along” and “Ride Along 2,” his dissatisfied, prone-to-rage, and desperate-to-prove-himself persona was played as someone with whom we should empathize. The same goes for “Central Intelligence,” which recycles many of Hart’s usual character traits but pairs him with Dwayne Johnson instead of Ice Cube. Together, Hart and Johnson are an excellent, weird pair, all strange energy and goofy genuineness. They’re so committed to this unexpected dynamic that you’ll get swept up in “Central Intelligence,” even as the movie itself is thoroughly basic.
The film begins in 1996, where Calvin Joyner (Hart, of "Ride Along 2") is practically the king of his high school. An accomplished student and athlete, Calvin is beloved by almost everyone, but he makes a particular fan in Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson, of "San Andreas"), an overweight, bullied boy who is thrown naked in front of the entire school during an assembly. The group of jerks who did this to him think it’s hilarious, but Calvin thinks differently—and when he gives Robbie his prized jacket to cover himself, Robbie clearly makes an idol for life.
Fast-forward 20 years later, when things haven’t turned out exactly as Calvin would have expected. Yes, he’s married to his high school sweetheart, and yes, they live in a nice home with a good life, but everything seems somewhat generic at his job, where his position as an accountant isn’t really going anywhere. Passed up for another promotion, Calvin is flat-out frustrated, and his “Most Likely to Succeed” distinction in high school seems like a million years ago.
So he’s surprised, but willing to break the monotony of his everyday life, when Bob Stone, the reinvented Robbie, contacts him through Facebook and asks to meet up. Two decades have changed Robbie almost immeasurably—he’s now buff, tan, and ridiculously good-looking, although he’s still the same nerdy kid from high school inside. He won’t part with his fanny pack or his jorts. He loves unicorns. And he needs Calvin’s help in clearing his name at the CIA, where he was an agent until being accused of murdering his partner, stealing satellite codes, and hoping to sell them on the black market.
With that information out in the open, Calvin wonders whether he can trust Bob at all—is he telling the truth about the CIA being wrong about him? Or is Bob playing him? When Bob kidnaps him, it feels like an affirmation of his villainy—but then Bob protects Calvin. Whether Bob is telling the truth about the true bad guy, whom he’s nicknamed the “Black Badger,” becomes the mystery of “Central Intelligence,” as the pair is thrown into chase scenes, a faux-marriage counseling session, and confronting Bob’s high school bully in their quest to save the world.
None of this very-predictable story would work without Johnson and Hart, who go all-in with exuberance and zeal. Usually Hart is the motor-mouthed maniac to a quieter, more-stable foil, but here he maintains that persona while Johnson also goes off-kilter. The combined effect is a good one, especially because Johnson is particularly amusing, whether he’s reminiscing about the greatness of the film “Sixteen Candles” (“I’ll never be like Molly Ringwald,” he pouts) or giving into physical affection (“I’m a hugger!” he proudly proclaims). There’s a shortcoming to the film because you’ll never really buy that Bob is a bad guy, but Johnson is so funny and weird that you’ll enjoy him anyway.
The issue is, though, that nothing about “Central Intelligence” is really surprising, not ultimately. There are a few nicely unexpected cameos, and seeing Johnson unironically sporting a fanny pack will make you laugh more than once, but “Central Intelligence” ends in pretty much the exact same way the “Ride Along” films did. Its adherence to the buddy-comedy formula is its primary detriment, even as Johnson and Hart amusingly work within those limits.
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