Toothless "Central Intelligence" Squanders Its Stars

Whoever thought to team up Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson deserves sole writing credit on spy comedy “Central Intelligence.” The end result is never more than its two leads acting silly while a movie (barely) unfolds around them. The film’s most compelling element is an offbeat performance from Johnson (that is, until he largely reverts to his usual action persona forty minutes in); its funniest is the framing issues caused by the height disparity between its stars. No, there isn’t much here but a lightly baked buddy comedy that might please fans of Hart and Johnson but can’t be bothered to use their considerable talents in any meaningful way.

In a plot eerily similar to Adam Sandler’s recent, even more dismal “The Do-Over,” Hart plays Calvin Joyner, an erstwhile star high school athlete who’s now an accountant, eternally disappointed in his grown-up life. With his twenty-year reunion imminent, Calvin’s high school sweetheart-turned-wife Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) begs him to go. He refuses, ashamed that he never lived up to his days as “The Golden Jet.”

But as soon as Calvin cuts ties with his past, his ex-classmate (and once obese bully target) Bob Stone (nee Weirdicht) traipses back into Calvin’s life via a Facebook friend request. The duo is soon catching up at a local watering hole, Calvin stunned at just how cut and imposing a figure Bob now cuts. Dressed in a light blue unicorn tee that seems to sprout his bulging, tattooed biceps, Dwayne Johnson imbues Bob with a contagious brand of buffoonery. Part socially inept cream puff, part bubbly bodybuilder, Bob is a blast to be with, even if none of his dialogue is particularly clever.

Unfortunately, the two are soon hurled into a wearied buddy cop storyline that makes Hart’s “Ride Along” movies look like exemplars of storytelling innovation.

Bob is a rogue CIA agent, kidnapping Calvin for the purposes of his accounting skills. They spend the rest of the picture fighting off a militant CIA officer (Amy Ryan) in an attempt to stop satellite codes from being sold to a terrorist. Along the way Bob’s ex partner Phil (Aaron Paul) becomes a vital piece of the plot via flashbacks and a few modern comedy stars make inspired cameos. But between the meaningless gunplay and pointless plot twists, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“We’re The Millers”) loses his grasp on relevance. The movie feels ancient, an aching collection of clichés felt all the way down in its marrow.

There are laughs, but they’re the empty kind, divorced from the story and much too reliant on the newborn comedy skills of Johnson. (Tellingly, the movie’s biggest laugh comes in the outtakes that accompany its end credits.)

Actor Ike Barinholtz (who does not appear in the movie) shares a writing credit with Thurber and David Stassen, and it’s a wonder. Barinholtz has been so wonderfully funny in the “Neighbors” movies that to see such a lethargic script bearing his name brings a mix of disappointment and bewilderment. For instance, the movie’s prologue featuring young Calvin coming to the aid of young, fat Bob (with Johnson’s face horrifically rendered on an obese body via CGI) is an all-out stumble: not funny, only mean, deflating the whole movie before it even starts. It’s an obvious, unnecessary grab at the heartstrings that doesn’t work because it’s so obviously fake in every regard.

Johnson and Hart have real magnetism (individually; not so much together) but the exhausted screenplay and flat visuals fail them at every intersection. They muster some laughs on talent alone, keeping a bad movie on life support for a while. But by the time the movie’s two endings arrive, it’s hard to remember any of what came before. Other than Johnson’s fleeting moments in that unicorn shirt. Those are fun memories. The rest of “Central Intelligence?” The rest of it isn’t even worthy of being put on a graphic tee – the lowest of pop culture standards.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: June 17, 2016
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros. Pictures), Universal Pictures
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenwriter: Ike Barinholtz, Dave Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul
MPAA Rating: PG -13 (for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language)