Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin “Little Man” Hart team up for “Central Intelligence.”
That’s all the info we need to know exactly how this action comedy is going down. Lots of Big Man/Little Fella sight gags, confident muscle man, man pf action, paired with wee and manic and increasingly shrill funnyman.
But to its credit, “Central Intelligence” flips that script. From the moment Johnson struts on camera, rainbow unicorn T-shirt, fanny pack and jean-shorts “Jorts?” Really?”), we know he’s supposed to be the goofy one. He’s an extension of his “Pain & Gain” doofus, a variation on his “Be Cool” comic bodyguard.
He’s a dork, a fanboy hero-worshipping his once-popular high school classmate (Hart). And he’s comfortable with his sexuality — VERY comfortable. Really in touch with his feminine side.
Hart? He’s reduced to straight-man for much of this Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) comedy. He has to screech just to get noticed. Because Johnson is freaking hilarious.
A prologue shows us Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner’s glorious last day in high school. And it introduces the En Vogue loving Robert Whierdicht (Johnson) dancing in the shower, a roly poly fat boy in braces, a prime target for Baltimore’s bullies. Bob will be humiliated that day in a way that will scar him forever.
Twenty years later, “Most Likely to Succeed” Calvin has married his high school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet) and succumbed a life of accounting and drudgery. Until his former classmate connects, via Facebook.
The dated “Waaaassssuuuuuup” video email is his first warning. “Bob,” as he’s now called, still wears a fanny pack.
“Hell YEAH. You want one?”
Bob never quite got over high school, never got over “Sixteen Candles.”
“Ever see that one?”
“Well, I’m BLACK.”
Bob drags Calvin out for drinks and down a rabbit hole. He has something to do with the CIA. He needs Calvin’s forensic accounting skills. And hey, maybe later we can hit our 20th high school reunion?
Amy Ryan plays a CIA agent chasing Bob. Calvin must decide who is The Good Guy and who will get him tossed into jail. Are you in or are you out?
In, of course. Reluctantly. With some screaming.
Johnson milks his overly affectionate goof for every laugh in the guy.
“You’re like a snack size Denzel!…”You’re like a Chocolate Google!”
Thurber films much of the movie in comic close-ups, and makes Johnson’s entrances and exits lightning-quick, like magic.
Hart is kind of left on his own, “Run funny, here.” “Hold a gun like it’s the first time” there. “Shriek.” “Let’s see some more eyes-bugging this time.” Hart has less to work with and he lets you see the strain of trying to carry his half of the movie.
Set pieces — “Bob” stepping in for Calvin’s marriage counselor — pay off. The CIA stuff and even the shootouts, by comparison, have their moments, but feel routine.
The cavalier amount of gunplay is common is such pictures, but unfortunately-timed here in light of last weekend’s night club massacre. Seriously, hundreds of rounds discharged in gunfights, barely a drop of blood? That’s irresponsible at any time, and the MPAA ratings board should recognize that.
This picture would have worked better with less of that, and tighter editing. It dawdles between action beats and big laughs, and in the third act, that lets much of the wind out of it. The anti-bullying message is pounded in without a hint of subtlety.
These guys, both veterans of buddy pictures, make the romance work, as it were. But it’s obvious Hart is a bit bugged at being so utterly upstaged. He knows even second bananas have to be funnier than this.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language
Cast: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul
Credits: Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, script by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber. A New Line/Universal release.
Running time: 1:47