Central Intelligence

Black spies matter.

Black spies matter.

(2016) Spy Comedy (New Line/Universal) Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, Tim Griffin, Timothy John Smith, Sione Kelepi, Dylan Boyack, Thomas Kretschmann, Megan Park, Slaine, Annie Kerins, Nate Richman, Robert Woo, Kumail Nanjiani, Phil Reeves, David Stassen, Rickey Eugene Brown, Kadian Clarke. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

 

When we’re in high school, we have dreams and inspirations – and sometimes nightmares. The people we become are generally not the people we thought we’d be. And as for those who we went to school with, they often turn out much different than we imagined as well.

In high school, Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the golden boy. In fact, his nickname was the Golden Jet. A star athlete, picked the most likely to succeed and going out with the head cheerleader Maggie (Nicolet). He had everything going his way. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Robert Weirdicht (Kelepi), fat and a little bit off-kilter, the target of every bully in school. During a pep rally, he’s dragged naked out of the shower and paraded in the buff in front of the entire school. Calvin, maybe the only kid in school who could stand up for him, does so, covering him with his Lettermans jacket. Weirdicht runs out of the gym and never returns to school again.

Twenty years later, Calvin is not the success he thought he’d be, even though he married his high school sweetheart and is working as an accountant which pays pretty well. His 20 year high school reunion is approaching and he doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to kill the legend of the Golden Jet by showing up as a mid-level accountant.

Then he gets contacted by a gentleman named Bob Stone (Johnson) who turns out to be Robert Weirdicht. He asks Calvin if he wants to get together for a drink and although Calvin is reluctant, Maggie insists and so Calvin meets Bob, completely shocked at the way Bob turned out; nearly a foot taller than Calvin and built like a pro wrestler (see what I did there?) which is humiliating in and of itself.

As it turns out, Bob is a bit of a renegade. Okay, he literally is a renegade agent for the CIA. He is being sought after for stealing classified data and murdering his partner (Paul). Bob claims he’s been set up, while the agent in charge (Ryan) is pursuing him relentlessly. Is Bob the hero he seems to be or is he using Calvin in a fiendish plot to get revenge on a world that treated him shabbily?

Well, you should be able to figure that one out without much effort. Central Intelligence is just the latest in a string of spy comedies which feature top comic actors putting themselves through action hero paces. In many ways this is the most promising of the lot because there’s a genuine action hero in the center (Johnson) and quite frankly, he’s pretty adept at comedy as well. Right alongside him is maybe the most popular and successful comic working in 2016.

And quite frankly, these two aren’t the problem. In fact, the two of them are a good reason to go out and see Central Intelligence; their interactions are that good. They make a surprisingly strong comedy team with Hart often playing the straight man role, surprisingly enough. Johnson is outstanding, with his hero-worship and his social awkwardness and his somewhat jaw-dropping eye-popping geekiness. Johnson has oodles of charm and he brings all of it to bear on the audience, who are helpless before it. The dichotomy between him and Hart also proves to be a comedy gold mine.

Sadly, the two are serviced by a plot that is predictable and at times nonsensical. While Jason Bateman has a fairly substantial role as the school bully 20 years later, the other big cameo by Melissa McCarthy is a blink-and-you-missed-it affair. There are plenty of gun fights but very few gunshot wounds, as you might expect from a PG-13 movie.

There is a running gag about the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles whose references might escape modern audiences (younger viewers might be well-advised to watch that movie before going out and seeing this one) that is pretty funny and constitute some of the most well-written portions of the script. Somewhere, Molly Ringwald is smiling no doubt.

Sadly, those moments are more isolated than I would have liked and the best scenes in the movie are mainly given away in the trailer. Calvin spends way too much time protesting he’s not in, whereas Bob spends too much time being oblivious. You would think that a superspy would be a little bit more savvy.

I think that the studios were hoping this would be the beginning of a franchise and by all rights it should have been. Sadly, the writers went for safe and ended up with a bland, generic comedy that is adequate for its needs but not exciting enough to stir genuine love from the audience. Definitely not a waste of your time, but not time well-spent either.

REASONS TO GO: Hart and Johnson make a fine team. The Sixteen Candles references work well.
REASONS TO STAY: The best moments are in the trailer. Not very inventive.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of crude and sexually suggestive humor, some brief nudity, plenty of action violence and a smidgen of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time Warner Brothers (who owns New Line) and Universal have jointly distributed a film since 1996 (Twister).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spy
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Independence Day: Resurgence

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