Directed by Rawson Marshall Turner
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan
Released on 1st July 2016
When a movie feels the need to run bloopers at the end, it’s usually a sign it knows it’s not made the audience laugh. Or so I thought. Turns out it doesn’t always apply and the film that’s made me change my mind is one that I didn’t expect to be up to much.
Not that Central Intelligence is wall to wall hilarity. In truth, it doesn’t get off to the greatest of starts, with an obvious – and rather bad – CGI teenage Dwayne Johnson. Braces, curly hair, too many pounds around the waist, the lot. And he’s literally the butt of a rather nasty joke, one that can best be described as bullying. At that point, your expectations are low, but hang on in there. Because it gets better. This could be my Guilty Pleasure of 2016.
At high school, Bob (Johnson) was the bullies’ favourite target, while Calvin (Kevin Hart) was everybody’s friend, the student most likely to succeed. As adults, the roles are reversed: Calvin’s a moderately successful accountant but Bob has converted all those extra pounds to muscle. And, as it turns out, he’s also a CIA agent. Admittedly, one on the run, but he needs his old friend’s help to prove his innocence.
Which is all you need to know because, after a while, the plot becomes almost incidental, twisting and turning this way and that. What you’re watching is another buddy movie, but something more conventional than Shane Black’s recent The Nice Guys. It’s less dark and certainly more obvious – their difference in size – but the Johnson/Hart duo works together surprisingly well. Johnson’s agent comes across as a big lug: his taste in films is dubious, his favourite being Sixteen Candles, and he’s forever going on about how great Calvin was at school. But underneath that big kid act, he’s actually smarter than he looks and way more resourceful in a tight spot. Hart’s one-time school hero is the fish out of water, mouthy, panicking all over the place but eventually finding his feet.
They’re helped by a script peppered with one-liners and references to other movies, showing the film knows exactly what it is and has no pretentions to be otherwise. So there’s Hart explaining to his wife that they don’t need marriage counselling because black people always talk things over in a barber shop. The one that brought the house down wouldn’t have expected such a high-decibel response, but the screening I attended was the night after the Taylor Swift/Tom Hiddleston story broke. Talk about timing! Actual comic scenes take second place behind the gags. Curiously, you’d swear that in one of them Hart was on the verge of corpsing –and when you see the bloopers at the end, you realise he was. There’s another one that didn’t get used at all and should have. It involves Johnson twitching his pecs on demand. Pity.
Alongside the little ‘n’ large combo, and some big name cameos, there’s a truly hilarious one-scener from Kumail Nanjiani as a security guard who stands in between our heroes and a light aircraft they want to steal. Hart tries to distract him, but it’s Nanjiani who’s the distraction, completely disbelieving everything he’s being told – and accompanied by a pet boa constrictor he’s named Snake Gyllenhaal. Yes, another of those movie references. But I wasn’t sufficiently bored to count them.
Overall, it’s a surprisingly good hearted film, with less colourful language than you’d expect. It’s no comedy classic, but it’s certainly a cut above some of the other attempts we’ve had this year and, by the time you come out of the cinema, you’ll have a smile on your face, along with the feeling that you’ve had an undemanding but enjoyable hour and a half. But you’ll still wish they’d left in that pec twitching scene!
Central Intelligence is released on Friday, 1 July and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 30 July.