By Chaz Lipp
One of the most pleasant surprises of this year’s summer season is Central Intelligence, a consistently funny buddy comedy starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (who previously helmed the similarly winning We’re the Millers and Easy A), the plot is needlessly complicated but leave it to Hart and Johnson (plus a few inspired cameos) to effortlessly carry the whole lightweight contraption.
Things begin 20 years ago as we meet super-popular Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart) and uber-nerd Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) at the end of their senior high school year. A creepy/funny de-aging effect removes decades from Hart and Johnson’s respective appearances. It also allows the “younger” Johnson to appear morbidly obese. Calvin is the only one who stands up for the perpetually picked-on Robbie, including at a year-end pep rally (one that Robbie never lives down).
Returning to present-day, Calvin is a bored accountant with a career-driven (and more successful) wife (his high school sweetheart, played by Danielle Nicolet). The mundanity of his workaday lifestyle is interrupted by the sudden re-appearance of a now-buff Robbie. Only now Robbie goes by the name Bob Stone, a not-so-secret alias, due to his status as an active CIA agent. Because of corruption within the agency, Bob needs someone with “super accounting skills” to uncover the truth behind a series of mysterious, large-volume international bank transactions. He’s on the trail of a the so-called “Black Badger,” who may or may not be a CIA insider. The Badger is in possession of government satellite codes and is looking to sell to the highest bidder.
Or something like that. No need to engage in critical thinking while enjoying the comic interplay between Hart and Johnson. In fact, the finer points of the plot really do begin to fade as soon as the end credits (which include outtakes) roll. But the fun lies in watching Hart and Johnson react to one another, with Hart closer to straight man. It’s pretty likely you’ve seen hi-jinks like this before in other similar films, but their comic timing is solid. Johnson’s Bob Stone is a unicorn-loving, touchy-feely tough guy—the whole ‘musclebound softie’ concept is obviously nothing new, but Johnson takes the ball and runs with it. Amy Ryan has a few nice moments as a no-nonsense CIA agent.
Forgo the temptation to write off Central Intelligence as the kind of lame-brain, beneath-contempt, bottom-scraping comedy Kevin Hart sometimes stars in (Ride Along 2 anyone?). Those looking for an hour-and-45 minutes of easygoing laughs, look no further.
Central Intelligence Images: Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures