Movie Review: Central Intelligence (2016)

“Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson”

1 Stars
Central Intelligence (2016)

Central Intelligence (2016)


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Danielle Nicolet

Synopsis: A former high school hero, who feels he has under-achieved in the 20 years since leaving school, finds himself drawn into a world of espionage when he reconnects with an old school buddy.

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There’s no doubt that, of all the wrestlers who turned to acting after hanging up their speedos, Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain, San Andreas) is by far the one most likely to enjoy a lengthy movie career somewhere near the top of the movie business.   His easy-going nature and natural charisma make him likeable enough to be able to carry a film on his own, which is pretty much what he has to do in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s lukewarm comedy, Central Intelligence.

He’s Robbie Whierdicht, a CIA agent who is now completely unrecognisable from the nerdy, overweight kid he used to be, but whose adult life has been shaped by a trauma from his past when he suffered the humiliation of being tossed naked into the packed school auditorium in which Calvin Joyner, (Kevin Hart – Get Hard, The Secret Life of Pets), the school’s most popular student, was being honoured.   While the rest of Robbie’s schoolmates howled with laughter at Robbie’s flabby bits, Calvin was sensitive enough to hand Robbie his jacket to cover his embarrassment.

Fast-forward 20 years, and Calvin, once voted the guy most likely to succeed, is now working as an accounts clerk, and has just discovered that his former assistant has been promoted over him.   His despondency over this is magnified by an impending high school reunion which his wife, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), who was once his high school sweetheart, is keen to attend.   The thought of all those former admirers discovering that graduation from high school signified the beginning of what he considers to be a life of under-achievement is enough to send Calvin into a spiral of self-pity which will probably have half the audience wishing they could reach into the screen and give him a good slap.   The guy has a steady job and a beautiful wife – what’s he got to be so down about?

Anyway, into his life returns Robbie, who, since leaving school, has turned those acres of fat into bulging slabs of muscle, and changed his name to Rob Stone after becoming a CIA agent.   At first it seems as though Rob simply wants to re-connect with a kid he’s hero-worshipped since that day in the gym but, after Calvin accepts Rob’s invitation for drinks, it slowly becomes apparent that he has an ulterior motive for getting in touch.   Rob explains that he’s trying to locate some satellite codes linked to a sinister bidding war, but the armed agents who turn up at Calvin’s house the following morning claim that he’s gone rogue after killing his partner.

The fact that the message contained within Central Intelligence is so obvious that it wouldn’t escape the attention of a mentally challenged deaf and blind person doesn’t deter the trio of screenwriters responsible from having Johnson give a speech in the final reel which spells that message out in the most direct way possible, just in case there are any mentally challenged deaf and blind people out there with an attention deficit disorder.   That’s far from being Central Intelligence’s only flaw, but it’s the one that irritates the most simply because it indicates how stupid Hollywood considers the majority of its mainstream audience to be.  It seems that we’re not to be trusted to pick up on even the most banal of messages in movies of the highest concept.

Hart and Johnson give it their best shot, but no amount of charisma or high-level energy can overcome the weakness of the material.   Hart, in particular, has to contend with portraying the kind of offensively stereotypical character whose level of excitability and cowardice seems directly linked to the darkness of his skin.   All bulging eyes and slow-witted drawl back in the 1930s, the only thing that has really changed since the days of Stepin Fetchit is the cast-ranking of the subject and the speed with which he speaks.   Central Intelligence earns a single star only for the winning performance of Johnson.

(Reviewed 23rd July 2016)

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