Are you a fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson? Sure you are. How could you not be? He’s cinema’s reigning charisma champion. Having helped to reinvigorate the “Fast And Furious” franchise, Journeyed ‘2’ The Mysterious Island and held the San Andreas Fault together with his bare hands, now he’s out to rock the world of buddy movies.
A forthcoming high school reunion is a source of dread for former big man on campus Calvin ‘The Golden Jet’ Joyner (Kevin Hart). In the intervening twenty years since being idolised and voted most likely to succeed, he’s ended up a moderately successful accountant. Deciding not to go, Calvin is contacted by someone called Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) who claims to be an old school friend. After a wild night out, it turns out that Bob is not only a CIA operative but that he needs Calvin’s help to save the world.
“Central Intelligence” is a spirited and good-natured attempt to channel the energy and attitude of eighties action comedies, albeit their more jovial sequels rather than the original edgier versions. It owes far more to Tony Scott’s higher octane “Beverly Hills Cop 2” than to Martin Brest’s original and likewise its overt comic edge is much more “Lethal Weapon 2” than Murtaugh and Riggs’ first outing. There’s actually not that much action in the movie – all the best bits are in the trailer – but the film succeeds mainly on the chemistry and charisma of its leads; Kevin Hart’s frenetic restlessness balancing out nicely against Johnson’s surprisingly sweet muscle-bound geek. It’s a good job the leads are so watchable because the plot is almost incidental to the high-jinks, poorly thought out, superficially explained and with a twist that you can almost see coming from the opening credits.
The film’s main stumble is actually in its anti-bullying message. Both the film and its trailer rely heavily on the image of an obese teenage Dwayne Johnson with a penchant for En Vogue growing up into ‘The Rock’ after humiliation at the hands of some vicious high school bullying. Instead of finding a better way to resolve that narrative thread (although Johnson brings interesting aspects of it to his entire performance), it falls back on the tired and counter-productive trope that the way to punish bullies is by becoming an even bigger, stronger bully. It’s exactly the same dumb decision Marvel made with their ‘Captain America’ anti-bullying cover variant a couple of years ago. Seriously? One of the character’s defining attributes is he carries a SHIELD and they really couldn’t think of a better way for him to protect the kid from being bullied than threatening worse violence?
Funny and sweet, if a little light on plot and big action, “Central Intelligence” has charm to spare but it’s all a bit forgettable although it does whet the appetite for further Hart/ Johnson collaborations in the future.