Despite starring two of modern-day Hollywood’s hottest actors, Central Intelligence finds itself caught between a “Rock” and a “Hart” place (I’LL TAKE MY PULITZER NOW, PLEASE). But seriously – The Rock and Kevin Hart should melt any screen shared between the two, yet this Ride Along wannabe barely limps across the comedic finish line. We’re talking base-value funny. Like, to a criminally infuriating point considering how The Rock and Kevin Hart could be a modern-day Schwarzenegger/DeVito team (SHUT UP, TWINS IS GREAT). Instead, Hart spends most his time yelling/talking/chatting about poop, and The Rock plays out a helplessly uncool, soft-as-a-marshmallow alter-ego – neither of which pay off.
“Intelligence” belongs nowhere near this film’s title.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Bob Stone, who was better known by his high school nickname, “Fat Robbie.” Classmates were relentless in their harassment, but “Robbie” bottled all that energy into a fuel that helped him transform into the lean, mean, CIA-agent-machine known as Bob Stone. Yet, not everyone from Bob’s graduating class can boast such luck, including Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) – Mr. “Most Likely To Succeed.” Now a desk-jockeying accountant, Calvin thinks himself such a failure that he refuses to attend his high school reunion – but that doesn’t stop Bob from coming back home and changing Calvin’s life forever. Who needs a high school reunion when you’ve got a CIA mission worth crashing?
Right off the bat, director Rawson Marshall Thurber introduces an important, yet heavy-handed message – bullies are bad. This’s true, and needs to be stated. Bullies can destroy self-confidence and bring upon years of mental scarring. But, Central Intelligence doesn’t offer anything new on the topic except for The Rock’s continued “I don’t like bullies” line, which comes and goes whenever the plot has time to get all mushy. It’s tough, because writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen WANT to preach something, but just don’t have the means. Bullies are bad, and we know that – but punching them in the face years later doesn’t solve much.
While we’re talking about scripting, let’s address the real elephant in the room – an inexcusable amount of laughs. Then again, do we expect any better from a movie that slings its “Who is Taylor Swift dating these days?” joke within the first five or so minutes? That’s after a blatant rip-off from Neighbors 2, when Calvin’s co-worker talks about inventing a smartphone app that…um…beefs up your dick pics (Scoonie invents the same thing).
I’m not sure what’s scarier – that two movies made the same joke merely a month a part, or that such jesting is socially relevant.
As assumed by my previous musings, Central Intelligence never really strives to be more than a dumbed-down, near-sighted comedy. We get it. Kevin Hart is a little man, barely larger than The Rock’s thigh. This accounts for 75% of Barinholtz and Stassen’s jokes, with at least another 20% being attributed to Hart’s elongated rambling – typically ending with a fecal reference.
There’s chemistry between Thurber’s two unlikely leads, but comically, their contrasting differences lose shock value no more than halfway through this kinda-action-y, non-thrilling spy story. Hart fires jokes with his typically rapid pace, but The Rock plays a unicorn-loving loser whose excited “Hey Dawg!” greetings and outdated references deflate *quickly* over time. There’s no lasting value in wackier, opposite-day-type personalities, and far too many jokes end up being lazy fat pokes – for a movie that hates bullying so much, it sure does plenty of it.
You must understand, I adore The Rock. I gave San Andreas a positive review because of The Rock. And I think Kevin Hart is a tremendous comedian – but Central Intelligence is a sad waste of talents (a Honey Badger reference, today?). These two should be a comedic dream team, but besides a tender glimpse of The Rock swaddling Hart (which should spark some epic fan fiction), there’s a ton of dead air floating between the two. Give me my badass, confident Rock – going soft and cuddly just doesn’t work to this ridiculous degree. Hart feels like he’s carrying entire scenes, which is a gargantuan task if The Rock is the one clinging to your back. Their chemistry exists, but prime material does not – plain and simple.
So, what is Central Intelligence? Strange, unfunny, and misguided. You have a great message, but also cheap jokes at your victim’s expense. You also have a tremendously enigmatic team, but you handcuff its most imposing member. There’s bro-bonding, a forgetful plot (Hart’s wife comes and goes/this is an anti-bullying movie, right?), and momentary bursts of action that can’t distract from a such a vapid sense of humor. In the end, you’ll find yourself thinking about better times, but it’s telling that those times are the Ride Along franchise. Mull that one over.
Central Intelligence finds a way to waste two of the hottest actors in Hollywood right now, to an unfunny, inexcusable degree.