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23 Jun 2016

Chemistry Brings the Laughs: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson Make 'Central Intelligence' Fun Despite the Rehashed Plot

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Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in Central Intelligence. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in Central Intelligence.

While it’s far from original, Central Intelligence winds up being an above-average action/comedy buddy movie thanks to its stars, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. These guys belong together.

The plot feels like a bunch of parts from other movies were cobbled together to make a whole. It has elements of Lethal Weapon, Grosse Pointe Blank, Just Friends and even a bit of Sixteen Candles, all stitched together, albeit capably, by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). It’s a well-oiled movie Frankenstein.

Johnson actually scores most of the laughs. Meanwhile, Hart delivers one of the more well-rounded, warm performances of his career.

The pre-opening-credits sequence gives us Calvin (Hart), the most popular guy in his high school, getting honored at a pep rally. In the boys’ locker room, obese Bob (Johnson, aided by some pretty funny CGI) is taking a shower to the tune of his favorite jam, En Vogue’s “My Lovin’.” Bully Trevor (Dylan Boyack) and his cronies spy Bob, pull him from the shower, and slide his naked body into the pep rally. Calvin takes pity on him and drapes him with his letterman jacket; Bob vanishes from school, never to be seen again.

Cut to the present day; Calvin is an accountant getting passed over for promotions. He gets a Facebook invite for beers from somebody named Bob Stone, which he accepts, because he’s bored. He winds up in a bar with a totally transformed Bob: He has gone from being morbidly obese to looking a lot like the Rock.

Bob, who admits to worshipping Calvin over the years, turns out to be a rogue agent in the CIA who is being pursued by his superior (Amy Ryan). He enlists Calvin’s help in detecting codes, or some nonsense like that, and Calvin finds himself in the adventure of his life.

Again, this movie feels a lot like movies that have come before it. Heck, even that recent Netflix Adam Sandler film, The Do-Over, has essentially the same plot. What puts this over the top is the chemistry between the two stars: They have a very winning presence together.

Johnson makes Bob childlike in many ways, making it a mystery: Is he really a man-child, or is it all just an act to pull Calvin into his scheme? Johnson plays Bob as overly polite, with echoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.

Countering Johnson’s simple yet centered character is Hart’s uptight, unsatisfied Calvin. There are moments in the movie, especially during the opening sequence, when Hart plays the part perfectly, mixing his patented brand of hyper humor with a certain sweetness. He makes it easy to root for Calvin on his road to redemption, while Johnson’s Bob is so likeable, you’d accept him as a good or bad guy.

The film ends with the requisite high school reunion featuring some welcome cameos. The producers have managed to score some big guest stars. In a credited performance, Aaron Paul shows up in a small role as Bob’s former partner. There’s a nod to Breaking Bad that gets a good laugh.

This is the sort of movie that goes down easy in the summer time. I actually watched it at a drive-in, and the movie perfectly suited the drive-in experience. So, yeah, I’m encouraging you to find a drive-in playing Central Intelligence. (Drive to Riverside, perhaps?) Close your windows, though. Mosquitoes can ruin a flick.

This probably won’t be the last we see of Calvin and Bob. Central Intelligence has “franchise written” all over it.

Central Intelligence is playing at theaters across the valley.

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