Central Intelligence

A surprisingly hilarious Summer comedy

Central Intelligence does not try to reinvent the wheel, it has the typical rhythms and beats of a Summer buddy-movie, but this is not a bad thing. Though it may have the cliches and lazy set-up it is a genuinely hilarious movie that works far better than you’d expect. Plus, some unexpected and on point Sixteen Candles references for the 80’s movie connoisseurs among us (as in I started cry-laughing at one point..)

In 1996, during the last senior assembly school legend Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is awarded the school prize for ‘Most Likely To Succeed’. In the very same assembly overweight school loser Richard Wheirdicht (Dwayne Johnson) is thrown into the room by the school bullies, completely naked. Richard leaves school and is never seen again. 20 years later and a school reunion is on the horizon. Calvin, who married his high school sweetheart Maggic (Danielle Nicolet), is refusing to go as he does not feel he has truly ‘succeeded’ at life and feels like he peaked at high school. Seemingly by coincidence, on the day before the reunion, a mysterious ‘Bob Stone’ adds Calvin on Facebook. It turns out that is the name Richard now goes by. The two meet and Calvin cannot believe the transformation Richard/Bob has undergone. He also can’t believe the series of events that follow which result in his being wanted by the CIA…

In terms of storyline this film will not win awards for originality, the school reunion as a concept is an overused plot point. As is the ‘wrong man’ story arc. As is the generic misunderstandings and bland gunplay that occurs as a result. And yet, in terms of execution, Central Intelligence does an excellent job of standing out from the rest of the crowd.  This is primarily due to the star power the film has, which it utilizes to it’s fullest. Kevin Hart does his usual Kevin Hart schtick – lots of shrieking combined with lots of race and short jokes – yet it ends up being more bearable than usual. This is down to the fact that his character Calvin is rather well-rooted, a conflicted character who we end up actually caring for. It’s a universal fear to worry that you have not fulfilled your potential, that you should/could/would have done things differently. His character arc covers this well and ends with a resolution that isn’t all that cloying.

However, this is Dwayne Johnson’s show. The man is a comedic revelation – creating a character who is imposing physically yet haunted by insecurities, truly funny both intentionally and unintentionally, and a proper oddball. This is a man who wears a unicorn tee with pride, unironically owns fanny packs (aka bum-bags) and whose favourite movie is Sixteen Candles.He could also hurt or kill you very easily. Yet what Johnson manages to do, in a film that isn’t perhaps the most nuanced seeming, is provide his character with more than one dimension. As goofy as his character appears he still seems rather real, rather loveable and rather riotous. 

Although it is the two leads that drive the movie and make it as unexpectedly entertaining as it is honourable mentions have to go to the supporting cast. Amy Ryan is excellent as the deadpan CIA boss. Jason Bateman awful (as in nasty character, Bateman is never awful!) yet brilliant as the school bully. Aaron Paul as Bob Stone’s ex CIA partner is brilliant. There’s also a cameo from a female comedy actress that I don’t want to spoil (it’s a small part but a goody). Also, for the Veronica Mars fans amongst you Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas) plays the kind of character you’d expect and that he does oh so well. 

Central Intelligence will surprise you. It will make you laugh more than you’d think and has a lovely feel good message. Plus, for a mainstream Hollywood comedy, it has a superb amount of oddness that makes it something of a rarity. Unpredictably delightful.

stars

The Secret Life of Pets

Answering that eternal question: What do our pets get up to when we’re at work?

The answer is lots of adventures that are slightly too reminiscent of Toy Story. This film has been constantly  advertised for the past year, with the first few minutes of the film making up the teaser trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-80SGWfEjM). It all looks so promising at first, hilarious even, then the trailer appeared again. And again. And again. The gags in the trailer that were hilarious at first became funny to kinda funny to slightly overdone. In some ways that sets up the tone for the entire movie – an excellent premise that becomes an overdone caper movie.

Max (Louis C.K.) loves his life. He loves his motley crew of friends – made up of two dogs, Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and Mel (Bobby Moynihan),  a cat called Chloe (Lake Bell) and a budgie named Sweet Pea. He loves his spoiled life. But most of all he loves his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). When Katie brings home a dog from the pound called Duke (Eric Stonestreet) Max is resentful at having to share Katie. Duke is determined to make a good impression; if it doesn’t work out with Katie he’ll have to go back to pound who will quickly get rid of him – permanently. Max uses this knowledge over Duke to blackmail him until Duke gets so sick of things he tries to make Max learn his lesson. However teaching Max a lesson results in the pair of them on the run from Animal Control and under the care of  “The Flushed Pets”, a gang of abandoned pets. Max and Duke will have to put aside their quarrels if they want to get back home and back to Katie. 

Writing the above plot summary confirmed my initial suspicion I had when watching the film. Substitute some of the above names  – replace Katie with Andy, swap Max & Duke for Woody & Buzz and the various pet names for Mr Potato Head, Slinky, Rex and Hamm – and you’ve essentially got the plot of Toy Story (1995). One is about what toys get up to whilst humans are away, the latter film is about what pets get up to whilst humans are away.The love-hate dynamics of the central duo were not necessarily invented by Pixar (there’s about 100 years of cinema prior that utilises the trope at various points!) but there are lots of similarities between Max & Woody and Duke & Buzz. Both Max & Woody have spoiled lifestyles being the centre of attention of their owners. Duke & Buzz are both the invaders of the aforementioned comfortable lifestyle. There’s a class between resident and newcomer which leads to them being far from home, they are kidnapped by an evil-doer and must unite to get back home.

This wouldn’t be too problematic if The Secret Life of Pets put a fresh take on it, but it doesn’t. Some of the gags and plot-points are overly familiar, with the film drifting from scene to scene without any sense of urgency. The film opens well, if with a sequence that has become far too familiar, yet becomes worn-out rather quickly. The film has a weird blend of realistic and pantomime, the later accelerates as the film rushes to its climax, never finding the balance and never sitting quite right. I laughed a few times but the jokes failed to elicit a belly laugh, many of the jokes prompted only a tight smile. I wasn’t alone in this reaction – few laughs were emitted by anyone in the 50% capacity screening. The two ten-year olds sat near me, who I used as a sort of human barometer were decidedly quiet throughout.

This is not to say the film is without charm. The animation is truly exquisite – a whole new level of depth in terms of animated cityscapes.  New York has never looked this good. I loved how the character were cute but not too cute – each character having a difference about added to the charm of both character and film. The stand out character had to be Snowball the villainous rabbit (Kevin Hart), a character who proved yet again that the villains are always the best character. I also appreciated how dark the film became at times, although considering the film has a U rating there were some themes present that were somewhat surprising.

The film looks brilliant, has some funny moments and some lovely characters. It’s not particularly original but will more than entertain most of the family.

 stars