Review: Rawson Thurber's 'Central Intelligence' is Seriously Funny
by Adam Frazier
June 16, 2016
Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as wrestler "The Rock") has solidified himself as a global box-office powerhouse, with numerous box office hits over these last few years. In 2001, he starred in The Mummy Returns, which grossed more than $400 million worldwide. Universal Pictures immediately planned a spin-off based on his character, The Scorpion King, which broke a few box office records in 2002. Since then, Johnson has starred in dozens of movies, including the enormously successful Fast and the Furious franchise, San Andreas, Pain & Gain, and Hercules. With this year's buddy comedy Central Intelligence, however, Johnson has found the perfect vehicle to flex his comedic muscles, as well as his ass-kicking ones.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (of We're the Millers, Dodgeball previously), Central Intelligence stars Johnson as Robbie Weirdicht, an uncool kid who grows up to be a badass CIA operative. We are introduced to "Fat Robbie" in a flashback where, after singing En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" in the showers, the heavyset high-schooler is exposed – literally – by bullies at a pep rally. Enter Calvin "The Golden Jet" Joyner (played by Kevin Hart), Central High's big man on campus. Voted most likely to succeed, the star athlete offers Robbie his letterman jacket to cover up – an act of kindness that won't be forgotten by the humiliated teen.
Twenty years later, Calvin hasn't lived up to his senior superlative. A risk-averse accountant left hanging on the corporate ladder, Calvin misses his glory days. With his high school reunion looming, Calvin reunites with Robbie, who has reinvented himself as Bob Stone, a charismatic Adonis with a rock-hard physique, the skills of Jason Bourne, and an exciting life that Calvin can only dream of. Claiming to be on a top-secret mission, Bob recruits the strait-laced suit into the dangerous world of shoot-outs, double-crosses, and super-spy surveillance.
What's most interesting about Central Intelligence is the reversal of expectations, both for its characters and the actors portraying them. Johnson, a guy who is known for kicking ass in movies like Fast Five and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, is playing a character you might expect to see Will Ferrell inhabiting. Dressed in a periwinkle blue unicorn t-shirt, jean shorts, and a fanny pack, Bob Stone is sort of like Steve Rogers if he had been frozen in the '90s instead of the '40s. As a former fat kid, Bob has a lot of insecurities buried down deep. A gentle soul, he knows the value of strength, but more importantly, he knows compassion. And like Captain America, he doesn't like bullies. You've seen Johnson in a lot of big movies, but Central Intelligence is the first to capture just how versatile he is.
Likewise, it's also fun to see Kevin Hart, one of the most successful comedians alive right now, playing the straight man to Johnson's goofy superhero. I've been a fan of Hart's standup for several years, but I've yet to see a film that showcases his talents like Central Intelligence does. Movies like Ride Along, Get Hard, and The Wedding Ringer have been pivotal in exposing Hart's comedic talents to mainstream audiences, but – like Calvin Joyner – they haven't lived up to the promise of Hart's potential. Hart and Johnson are their best here, their elevated performances the result of undeniable chemistry. With the exception of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys, there hasn't been a more dynamic duo on the big screen this summer.
While 107 minutes is relatively short when compared to other Hollywood releases like Captain America: Civil War (147 minutes) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (151 minutes), Thurber's film loses momentum in the third act. At that point, it becomes less about the characters and more about paying off the flimsy save-the-world plot, where the truth behind Bob's mission is revealed. Once that's out of the way, Thurber finishes strong with a satisfying finale that delivers some big laughs and a few surprises.
With an unabashedly absurd script co-written by Ike Barinholtz, Dave Stassen, and Thurber, and memorable turns by Johnson and Hart, Central Intelligence is the funniest movie of the summer (so far). Considering Johnson has upwards of 15 movies currently in production, including a remake of Jumanji co-starring Hart, I hope he can pencil in room for Central Intelligence 2, because I have a feeling that as soon as audiences get a taste of this pairing, they're going to want more.
Adam's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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