Saturday, July 21, 2018
Things To Do

Review: 'Central Intelligence' is genius teaming of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart

Central Intelligence is a welcome intrusion on reality, a comedy sorely needed after Orlando's tragedy. It's a buddy action flick so amiable that even gunfire sprayed for entertainment on a day when the last victims were identified didn't faze me. Much.

What makes Central Intelligence appealing in appalling times is volcanic chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Ignore the generic caper at hand, involving stolen computer codes threatening national security, blah, blah. Focus on this genius teaming, classically mismatched in size but not charisma.

Each plays someone against type, Johnson much more than Hart, who tamps down his short fuse personality just enough to be considered the straight man in this comedy team. Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the high school star considered likeliest to succeed, now a humdrum accountant.

On the other end of the social scale was obese, bullied Robbie Whierdicht, who later changed his name to Bob Stone. Bob transformed into Johnson's chiseled physique, becoming a loose cannon CIA agent, a maiming machine hunting for those computer codes. Calvin's accounting skills can help, if he stays alive.

The outline is older than The In-Laws, not cleverly embellished much by director Rawson Marshall Thurber or his co-writers. Central Intelligence could function well enough with anyone in the leads but this is a special pairing; 48 Hrs., Midnight Run level alchemy. If the material were its equal, we'd have a minor buddy classic.

Watch how Hart and Johnson complete each other's performance, one generously toning down so his less comically experienced teammate loosens up. For all his athleticism, Bob is still an insecure fat kid inside, conveyed by Johnson in unlikely moments, with unforced gestures. Hart's motor-mouth idles much of the time, making this a less coarse comedy than expected. Sweet, in fact.

The CIA subtext leads to a Bob's pursuit by another agent (Amy Ryan, deadpan funny) for a previous assignment gone wrong. Thurber stages serviceable action sequences — motorcycle fu is a neat touch — yet Central Intelligence won't impress the Jason Bourne crowd. Not that we need to see more creative ways to kill.

A few laughs, on the other hand, aren't a bad idea right now.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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