Intelligence not central to ‘Central Intelligence’

by Richard Roeper

“Central Intelligence” is one of those slick, gunplay-riddled, stupidly plotted, aggressively loud buddy movies – so formulaic and dumb, even if you see it you’ll probably forget you’ve seen it by the end of the year.

And if that’s the case, consider yourself fortunate.

For about a half-dozen years now, I’ve been writing reviews of Kevin Hart movies in which I mention how likable Hart is, and what a shame it is to see his talents squandered.

Here we go again. As was the case with the “Ride Along” movies and “Get Hard,” Hart is cast in the role of the likable everyman who is thrust into dangerous situations where he conveys great fear by cowering, trying to talk his way out of peril, running away from bad guys, dodging bullets, howling during chase sequences and accidentally getting the better of henchmen during quick-cut fight scenes.

Oh, and there’s the obligatory domestic subplot in which Hart’s character has to make things right with his beautiful but clueless significant other, who is always the last one to realize her man’s life is in serious danger.

“Central Intelligence” alternates intermittently funny exchanges of dialogue with depressingly familiar action sequences featuring dozens of gunmen who are incredibly poor shots and car chases and fight sequences that seem to take place in towns and cities where there are no bystanders and there’s no media coverage. Things explode in a vacuum.

Hart plays Calvin Joyner, who in 1996 was the king of his high school: a top student, superstar athlete, prom king, in love with the most beautiful girl, admired by all including the principal, who actually says at an awards ceremony if he were biologically capable of having a son, he’d want it to be Calvin.

On the eve of Calvin’s 20th high school reunion, he’s not feeling so hot about the way things have turned out. He’s a mid-level forensic accountant on the slow track at work – hardly living up to his “Golden Jet” nickname from high school.

Enter one Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). Back in the day, Bob was a morbidly obese, unpopular kid who was the subject of a cruel prank in front of the entire student body, but now he’s a chiseled god involved in international intrigue as a spy, or maybe he’s a spy gone rogue, but whatever he’s doing, it’s really badass and involves lots of people with serious weaponry wanting him dead.

One kinda funny touch: Even though Bob is so chiseled he looks like a statue come to life, and he’s capable of taking down four or five bad guys without breaking a sweat, he’s still a major dork. He loves unicorns and dumb commercials from the 1990s, he wears jorts and a fanny pack and he’s incapable of shielding his unabashed hero worship of “The Jet,” as he calls Calvin. You can’t help but laugh at Johnson’s endearing performance, especially when he has flashbacks to high school traumas and he’s utterly vulnerable, despite his hulking persona and his trained-killer skill set.

Amy Ryan is wasted in a clichéd role as a CIA agent convinced Bob is the “Black Badger,” an international bad guy trying to gain access to secret codes that will compromise national security. Aaron Paul has too little screen time as Bob’s erstwhile partner, Phil.

Far too many of the one-liners in “Central Intelligence” contain references to pop culture, from Taylor Swift’s love life to “Road House” to “Sixteen Candles” to Jake Gyllenhaal to Denzel Washington to a thuddingly unfunny moment in which Hart is told he looks like “a black Will Smith.” You can practically see the screenwriters’ fingerprints on the dialogue.

We get cardboard bad guys who are homophobes, sexist pigs, bullies or some combination thereof. Just because they’re the villains doesn’t excuse the low-level humor.

There’s never a moment when intelligence is central to the alleged humor of this film.


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