Film Review: Central Intelligence (USA, 2016)

There’s an ancient proverb: when you place two of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood in the same room together, they’re either going to carry the movie or destroy it. Or at least, that’s roughly how it goes. In the case of Central Intelligence, placing comedy’s new golden boy Kevin Hart in a suit alongside Dwayne Johnson, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the new millennia, in a unicorn t-shirt you know the pair are going to carry the movie no matter how refined or dry the film ends up being.

This textbook comedy follows Calvin Joyner (Hart), high school god and homecoming king now a dreary accountant in a mid-life crisis, suddenly contacted by an old classmate, Bob Stone (Johnson), in the wake of a school reunion. Stone, once overweight and bullied, is now a happy-go-lucky muscle man involved in the spy game, and drags Joyner into his escapades. Now, while the plot seems simple it actually consists of two very different kinds of films – for the most part there’s the classic popcorn comedy flick with predictable dialogue and cheesy action infused with both flashes of heart and eye-roll moments. However, while this part of the film certainly exists, there is a little something deeper than this that keeps you interested, and it has a lot to do with this combination of Johnson and Hart.

When comedy duos work, they work. When they don’t, they’re forgotten. What Hart and Johnson have is, despite their characters becoming slightly irritating at times as they force Johnson’s positive attitude down the audience’s throat, a chemistry that works so well when they’re in the same room together. They’re both capable of portraying the straight man and the funny man in one, which is an interesting combination, and that’s a testament to their own talents rather than the writing. The moments of the film that received the biggest laughs were tangibly those scenes Johnson and Hart were given free reign to be themselves rather than their characters. Don’t believe it? Arguably the funniest part of the film was the end credit blooper reel.

Intertwined with these characters are a series of fun cameos and some golden lines of meta dialogue in a swathe of what is mostly a regular popcorn flick. There are scenes of immense satisfaction, but they’re sandwiched between scenes that make no sense and scenes that are so clichéd they’re almost nauseating. But what saves this film are the two lead actors who, in any other film with a better script and more freedom for their own improvisation, could quite easily begin a series of their own comedy exploits akin to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, albeit with their own stylistic twists. In this era controlled by a sequel-fuelled box office, it’s expected there will be a Central Intelligence 2, but one can only hope whoever takes the reigns of the sequel will utilise the actors for the comedic flairs they so clearly possess.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Central Intelligence is in cinemas June 30.