James Cole Clay // Film Critic
The so-so espionage comedy CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE rests on the laurels of its two stars. But for all the successes that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart have achieved on social media/the box office, they are lacking originality.
This film directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (WE’RE THE MILLERS) and written by Ike Barinholtz (THE MINDY PROJECT) has the CV to be one of the surprises of the summer– yet the shoddy ad-libs take over and by the end my belly was starved for laughs.
There is no plot to CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, only premise in a way that is trying to imitate classic comedy duos like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, but remixed for 2016. All you need to know is Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson)— Yep. That’s his name and the kind of film you’re dealing with — was overweight in high school and was cruelly bullied. This is the cue for Johnson to sing En Vogue’s “Never Gonna Get It” in the shower for what has to be the most egregiously bad laugh in an American comedy this year. All the while, a random act of kindness by high school phenom Calvin Joyner (Hart) had a great impact on the delusional Weirdicht.
20 years have past, Weirdicht goes by “Bob Stone” and is now a lethal force in the CIA. As for Joyner, he’s about the same and an middle-class accountant who married his high school sweetie. After a night of bonding and boozing the two become caught up in the world of espionage. These types of buddy comedies are the Big Macs of the Hollywood assembly line: They offer nothing original but are a product that’s easy to create and goes down smoothly for the masses.
We get it. Kevin Hart is a whacky guy with a loud-mouthed brand of comedy that’s becoming more of a parasite to the comedy landscape than an asset. Hell, he and Ice Cube were able to bring down the mighty STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS back in January with RIDE ALONG 2. There’s no stopping this guy, who like Adam Sandler, has been doing the same schtick for years now and there’s no end in sight. Why even bother developing any semblance of character traits at this point? They’re going to make their money no matter what. Damn the artful side of filmmaking. Now we aren’t expecting an Oscar campaign here, but at least try a little harder other than giving Johnson a fanny-pack and a unicorn t-shirt.
While The Rock certainly isn’t good here, he occasionally is the Viagra to an otherwise flaccid script that just follows the duo in an endless stream of whacky situations that feature Hart frantically yelling and Johnson cheesing. Aaron Paul (BREAKING BAD) shows up in a role that looks like he’s reading off cue cards, and the great Amy Ryan is useless in upping the ante.
Johnson and Hart are clearly having a great time riffing with each other here. However, it was more fun of following the making of this film on their Instagram feed than it was watching the finished product. This is such shame since they are working with Thurber who has yet to make a dud in his comedic career.
Maybe CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE could have used more edge – which didn’t work that well either in Hart’s 2015 film GET HARD – or just more structuring. Bottom line, there have been worse comedies to come out this year, but very few have been as lazy, which is essentially the antithesis of what Johnson and Hart promote. But here we are again with another lifeless comedy whose deadweight could not be carried by its two gargantuan stars.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE opens nationwide Friday.