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.