Central Intelligence (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
Although a silly and an inconsequential buddy action-comedy, “Central Intelligence” delivers big laughs and expected, sometimes surprising, level of entertainment because of the energy put forth by the effortlessly charismatic Dwayne Johnson and fast-talking funnyman Kevin Hart. Casting two actors who look very different physically is a common strategy in buddy comedies, but it works because the duo here are able to find a magnetic rhythm despite their different approaches on how bring out laughter from the audience.
The picture starts strong but the weakness is its plot involving bank account transactions. In a comedy like this, dragging out the conflict is a mistake because it takes away precious time from what it showcases best: the quick banters between Bob Stone (Johnson) and Calvin Joyner (Hart), a CIA agent suspected by the government of someone who had gone rogue and an accountant who feels disappointed with how his life has turned out, respectively. The picture runs close to two hours; it might have been stronger if it were closer to ninety minutes because there are a handful of slow moments between the action where not much happens.
It offers a surprising amount of heart. Bob was a fat high school student and was consistently bullied for it while Calvin was deemed to be someone who would do great things given that he was very smart, athletic, and personable. Scenes that stand out between the running and flying bullets involve Bob, well-built and strong as an adult, having moments where he still sees himself as the fat kid in school and Calvin admitting to himself, and his wife (Danielle Nicolet), that he could have been so much more. Many viewers are likely to find themselves able to relate, not to these characters specifically but to the overall thoughts and feelings of sometimes not being good enough because the past has made a considerable stamp in one’s identity—and it cannot be undone.
The gun battles and hand-to-hand combat are nothing special, but they are entertaining and amusing because it is apparent that everyone is having fun. We encounter ad-libbed moments from time to time; while the jokes do not always land, they are delivered with verve and conviction that I found myself chuckling anyway. And when they do land hard and right on target, they are funny, clever, and never repeated exactly again. Credit to the screenwriters—Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and Rawson Marshall Thurber—for striving to give the audience more than just scraps. Numerous comedies within the sub-genre tend to bring up the same jokes without any kind of twist or not coming from a different perspective and so they inevitably suffer from diminishing returns.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, “Central Intelligence” balances comedy and action in such a way that potentially trite and hackneyed material is turned into a highly watchable romp. Hart and Johnson share strong chemistry. We believe their characters can be friends not because they share similar interests—in fact, one of the running gags is that they are so different, one of them is actually into unicorns and fannypacks—but because they are good guys as teenagers and they are still good guys twenty years later.