In a summer filled with franchise building and unnecessary sequels, original films that offer even the faintest signs of brilliance can often be praised as something akin to fine art. Our culture’s hunger for original content is growing far faster than Hollywood’s ability to cater to our ever-changing taste, and as a result even fairly mediocre films can see big returns with a decent marketing campaign. Such is the case with Central Intelligence, an action-comedy that relies heavily on the charm of its stars, Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, in order to entertain.
Twenty years have passed since Calvin (Kevin Hart) took pity on Bob (Dwayne Johnson) after he was bullied and humiliated in front of their entire graduating class, and in that time Calvin has rarely, if ever, thought about that moment. He was voted most likely to succeed in high school, but now he’s an accountant whose career is stuck in neutral and he cannot shake the feeling he might have failed at becoming the person he was meant to be. When Bob, now in incredible shape, re-enters his life out of the blue, Calvin begins to remember the driven soul he once was. That is, until the CIA arrives at his door in search of Bob, and Bob then recruits Calvin to help him clear his name.
Central Intelligence wants so badly to run on the strength of its mismatched stars in the same way Twins did in 1988, but the likability of its leads simply cannot be stretched to feature-length without a meatier script than what co-writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen are able to provide. Nearly every sequence lingers at least a minute too long in hopes of finding a bit of magic between The Rock and Hart as they search for new ways to make light of the fact they are visually and emotionally opposites. Bob is cool, calm, and collected, but Calvin is a ball of anxiety whose short fuse is constantly lit by Bob’s all too easygoing demeanor. Bob also inexplicably loves unicorns and carries a fanny pack. One of these traits is eventually explained, but the other is not, because apparently a grown man believing in unicorns is the stuff comedy is made of.
The film’s other big downfalls are its cinematography, which looks like something you’d see in footage from an unused sitcom pilot made around the turn of the new millennium, and the limp direction of We’re The Millers filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber. There is no question as to whether or not Thurber knows how to capture two people chatting in an unimportant locale, such as a bar or house or abandoned warehouse, but when it comes to handling the multiple action sequences found throughout Central Intelligence his eye for storytelling simply falls flat. Nothing is incoherent or messy per se, but it’s also not at all fun. Action scenes come and go with zero dramatic weight or stylistic heft, almost as if the fact Hart and Johnson are trying to prevent the end of the world is an afterthought that follows far behind the need to make us believe their characters have a true camaraderie between them. It’s almost as if Thurber himself is unconvinced the pairing works, though it definitely does, so he stops forward momentum of the narrative in hopes of finding a solution.
All that aside, Central Intelligence does succeed in offering just enough laughs and entertainment to justify the expense of a movie ticket. The final twenty minutes might as well have the words “this is a setup for the eventual sequel” superimposed on the screen, but in 2016 that should come as little to no surprise to most viewers. Neither Hart nor Johnson are known for signing up for one-time paydays, so the idea of a sequel, or even a franchise, being spawned from this film was a given from the moment the title was announced. The reveal of a major celebrity cameo in the film’s final moments only adds further proof of this being in the works, and even though I believe the film could have been something much greater than what is presented in the final cut, I have faith that additional entries could prove even better. If no such film happens, then Central Intelligence will go down as a perfectly fine, albeit ultimately forgettable excuse for summer escapism that somehow manages to avoid the kind of mind-numbing jokes related to dicks, farts, sex, and racism that seem to drive most modern comedies.