Twenty years after high school Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) has not lived up to his potential of being “most likely to succeed”. When he declines the Facebook invite to his high school reunion, an former schoolmate gets in touch; Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). A far cry from the overweight, self-conscious kid he was in school, Bob is now in the CIA and chasing down a threat to national security, a threat that he needs Calvin’s help in stopping.
From the opening moments of Central Intelligence, where we see Dwayne Johnson’s face digitally spliced onto the body of an overweight teen, we know that this is the set up for many a gag throughout the film, but we also know that we are in for a treat; very few seem as happy to take the mick out of themselves than Johnson.
Kevin Hart leads the cast here, and thankfully his usual manic screeching is toned down by his pairing with the more steady and frankly, funnier Dwayne Johnson. The two work well together, but there is little doubt that without Johnson, Hart would be unbearable. Johnson’s comedic timing is wonderful, and his ability to keep the audience guessing throughout the film is admirable. Elsewhere in the cast Amy Ryan plays a CIA agent trying to track Bob Stone down, Ryan Hansen has a small and cleverly obnoxious role as Steve and Danielle Nicolet plays Calvin’s wife Maggie. Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul and Melissa McCarthy also turn up in cameo roles.
The story, written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber feels as little as though it was inspired by Grosse Pointe Blank – guy goes back to his high school reunion and has to hide what he does for a living. Central Intelligence is not quite as whip smart, introspective and downright odd as the John Cusack vehicle but it plays up the differences between Johnson and Hart, while allowing huge plot holes in the story to go unanswered and the whole reason for the two teaming up in the first place feels a little thin. The comedic timing of both lead actors is strong, and the film certainly has fun with allowing Johnson to play up the former fat kid side of his character.
As director, Rawson Marshall Thurber plays up the odd couple comedy between Johnson and Hart, while making sure that Hart doesn’t shriek over the entire film and become completely grating. As well as this, Johnson is given plenty of time to make his enthusiastic, happy character work on screen, and mine the entire situation for laughs. Of which there are many. Trouble arises with the convoluted story that is something to do with codes? It is not fleshed out either way, and is often left to fall b the wayside. As well as this, the pacing of the film in the final act is problematic, with the entire film feeling as though it could have ended 20 minutes earlier than it does.
In all, Central Intelligence is a film anchored by the odd-couple comedy between Johnson and Hart, but it is really Johnson that carries the entire shebang on his able (and broad) shoulders. Most of the laughs come from Johnson, and he carefully balances out the more shrill Hart. The film suffers from weak pacing and a lack of focus on the actual story, but there is plenty of fun to be had with Central Intelligence, and Johnson shines as he mercilessly pokes fun at himself.