Two high school peers: one, Calvin (Kevin Hart), is destined for greatness, and the other, Robert (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is relentlessly bullied into submission. 20 years later, Calvin is at a dead end job with no hope of upward mobility and Robert is looking to reconnect. Only, this seemingly innocent encounter promises to be something much more impactful on Calvin’s life.
This is the basic setup. Hart plays the straight man and Johnson plays the odd man. Johnson here plays a character with a similarly ignorant worldview as his character in Pain and Gain. Hart is playing a similar to character to all other characters he has played on-screen. In this case, neither of these are bad characters for the narrative.
As far as comedy narratives go, this one is fairly original. With Hart’s character as the audience surrogate, we follow an oscillating expository voice that keeps us questioning the true motivations behind the other characters. Of course, the questions aren’t unpredictable enough to make this a mystery thriller. It is easy enough to see through the conventions of the narrative. Additionally, some questions are easily answered based on casting choices. Overall, though, the story keeps you involved.
Pacing helps pass over logical pitfalls and the occasional lazy joke with ease. Not every line of the script proves to yield side-splitting results. Some jokes are eye-rolling, but the narrative moves fast enough to get to the next effective joke before audience interest is compromised.
Johnson and Hart have great on-screen chemistry, which is good considering they are essentially the only real characters on screen. Others are merely archetypes or play dumb for the sake of narrative convenience. The latter is particularly evident in the character of Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), Calvin’s wife, who serves very little purpose in the film and is only utilized to cause tension with Hart’s character.
Underdeveloped characters aside, Johnson and Hart make the film work through carrying the bulk of the screentime playing off of each other’s strong points.
Comedies are hard. It is hard to make them with universal appeal, as comedic sensibilities are so diverse. As such, comedy films with little narrative investment are always a mixed bag. Central Intelligence has enough entertainment value and pacing to be engaging with audiences in spite of some stale jokes.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)