Monday, June 27, 2016

'Central Intelligence' review

Kevin Hart is one of the funniest people in Hollywood. He just hasn't managed to succeed on the big screen. In the last few years, Hart has emerged as one of the breakout comedy stars of this new generation. He's been popping up in movies everywhere, making millions of dollars and conquering the stand-up business as well. The unfortunate problem is that none of Hart's starring vehicles have been well received. Despite plenty of promise and decent box office numbers, The Wedding Ringer and Get Hard fell flat last year, and I can tell you from personal experience that the Ride Along series is truly awful. Hart has had funny bit parts in movies like This is the End and Top Five, but his potential is still mostly untapped.

Central Intelligence is Hart's most impressive star vehicle yet, although that's not necessarily saying much considering that the comedian's record has been so spotty. Pairing Hart with megastar Dwayne Johnson and Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber, Central Intelligence is a fast-paced, relatively unoffensive summer comedy that works as an enjoyable time at the movies. It's just unfortunate that the film itself feels so haphazardly made, feeding off the charisma of its stars for what often amounts to a big mess. Confused, cluttered, and almost incomprehensible at times, the movie itself is riddled with a story that is truly atrocious. Nonetheless, I can't see too many people walking away from this one upset- Hart and Johnson are hilarious, and after all, that's exactly what the marketing promised.

Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the most popular kid at his high school back in 1996. He was prom king, class president, a star athlete, and just a beloved guy all-around. Meanwhile, Robbie Wierdicht (Johnson, in heavily digitized form) was the butt of many jokes, including a particularly vicious one carried out at a senior pep rally. Cut to two decades later, and things have changed a little bit. Joyner, who at one time was voted most likely to succeed by his class, is now an accountant. It's a fine job and a respectable one, but Joyner isn't happy and he certainly isn't the superstar that everyone expected him to be. On the flip side of things, Wierdicht, who now goes by the name of Bob Stone, is a ripped CIA agent, a macho man who is able to destroy anyone in his path.

Bob wasn't necessarily friends with Calvin in high school, but the campus superstar was one of the few people who was ever kind to him. Just before their high school reunion, Bob pokes Calvin on Facebook, which seems like a bizarre move. The two arrange to meet and they have a good time, with Bob appearing to be a sort of weird loner. He ends up sleeping on Calvin's couch that night, and the next morning, the CIA comes knocking on the door. Bob is a wanted fugitive and the agency is prepared to do anything to stop him. Without even knowing it, Calvin is sucked into a global conspiracy involving the CIA, arms deals, Bob's former partner (Aaron Paul), and a mysterious terrorist named the Black Badger.

Central Intelligence's success hinges on three people- Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Rawson Marshall Thurber. In fact, the supporting cast is almost nonexistent. Amy Ryan is there to spit orders at people, Danielle Nicolet is playing the prototypical wife character, Aaron Paul's role amounts to a cameo, and Jason Bateman is in one scene of the movie. Whatever these actors add to the movie, it's minimal at best, with Hart and Johnson responsible for the heavy lifting. Hart has always managed to be incredibly grating in his previous cinematic endeavors, but here, he tones things down a bit. Hart is simultaneously manic and controlled, working with both the mild-mannered traits of Calvin and the insanity of the situation.

On the other hand, Johnson shows his star charisma once again, delivering a performance that is almost impossible to dislike. There's a tad too much forced character development with Bob Stone, but The Rock overcomes that with ease. Whether he's knocking out bad guys or cracking jokes, Johnson is just dynamite. In some ways, Bob Stone just might be the character that we've been waiting for The Rock to play for years. He's both lovable and badass, sympathetic and fearsome. It's nearly perfect for Johnson. His deadpan delivery is spot-on, and should Central Intelligence continue as a franchise, I'd be back just for more adventures with this character. He's the magnetic center of the film and he simply dominates.

And finally, the third man responsible for the film's success is director Rawson Marshall Thurber. With other hit comedies under his belt like We're the Millers and Dodgeball (both far superior movies in my mind), Thurber knows what makes a comedy work and he injects this film with a breeziness that allows it to feel like quintessential summer entertainment. Thurber is exceptional at pacing the film, staging each act with enough intrigue and promise before elevating the stakes as the film goes on. He's hindered in this film by the awful script, but his directorial flair still manages to shine through. There was rarely a moment in Central Intelligence where I wasn't enjoying myself and a good portion of that credit should go to him.

Unfortunately, Central Intelligence just emerges as a prime example of how you can only get so far without a good story behind you. Truth be told, I really had no clue what was going on during a good portion of this movie. The story ranges from vague to incoherent, eventually dissolving into a pile of nothingness. It relies on so many contrivances and coincidences, so many twists and turns that feel completely unwarranted considering what the film has previously set up. Screenwriters Thurber, Ike Barinholtz (a comedian I like a lot), and David Stassen had a great concept and two very talented actors to work with, but they get caught up in a Mission: Impossible plot gone horribly wrong and it's practically disastrous to watch at times.

I know, if you're seeing this movie, you're there to watch Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson do funny things and play likable characters. And you get plenty of that. This film practically rides on the chemistry between these two hilarious actors. It just doesn't get much right beyond that. Thurber does his best and the film always works as passable entertainment, but Central Intelligence simply fails to tell an interesting story. It's stuck in a web of total nonsense, and it's something that the film is never quite able to recover from. It's not a knockout blow, but with a lackluster plot and a cliche-ridden screenplay, Central Intelligence falls short of its potential.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.2/10)

Image Credits:Screen Rant, YouTube, Variety, Coming Soon

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