Buddy cop movies are a well-worn genre trope of films. While there are plenty throughout film history, they became massively popular in the 80s with 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon and those films spawned many imitators. There have been a few of them this year, including Ride Along 2, Zootopia, and The Nice Guys, though none of them have featured a mismatched pairing quite as dramatic as Kevin Hart (a diminutive comedian) and Dwayne Johnson (a hulking action star). They’ve teamed up together in director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s comedy Central Intelligence.
Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the most popular guy in high school, voted most likely to succeed, and known as the Golden Jet. Twenty years later, he is married to his high school sweetheart, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), feeling like he has not succeeded because he is an accountant, and refusing to go to his twenty year high school reunion. After declining the Facebook invitation to the reunion, Calvin is immediately sent a friend request by someone named Bob Stone (Johnson). Turns out it is Robbie Weirdicht, an overweight kid who was bullied throughout high school, which culminated in an embarrassing prank in front of the entire senior assembly where Calvin was the only one to help him. Having changed his name and physique, Bob and Calvin meet up for drinks and to catch up. The next day, an agent from the CIA, Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) shows up at his house looking for Bob. The CIA believes Bob is a rogue, unstable agent who killed his partner and is a danger. Soon enough, Bob tracks down Calvin and tells him he is being framed and needs Calvin’s “super sweet accounting skills” to track down someone codenamed The Black Badger who is trying to sell US satellite codes on the black market.
The story is written by Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, two writers on The Mindy Project, on which Barinholtz also acts. It definitely has some of the manic, scattershot comedy that Barinholtz is known for, some of which works and some of which feels a little forced. There is a lot of conventional framed agent stuff to the story that is really just there to move the story along. Amy Ryan plays things completely straight as the serious agent who will stop at nothing to bring Bob in and protect the country. She also knows that Calvin is a scared civilian, and knows how to apply the pressure to him in order to make him do what she wants to take down Bob.
Really, though, the story, from the various plot threads involving Bob coming to terms with and facing his past, to Calvin coming to terms with and confronting his present, to trying to catch a criminal, to being pursued by the CIA, is just there to supplement the onscreen pairing of Hart and Johnson. Nobody is going to this film for story. It’s all about the comedy. And thankfully, most of it works and is really funny.
First off, the sheer physical juxtaposition between The Rock and Kevin Hart lends itself to more than a few funny images, including the two of them riding on a motorcycle together and role playing during a therapy session. The comedic chemistry between the two is very good, which shouldn’t be a surprise; Hart came up through stand-up comedy while Johnson was highly entertaining on the microphone as a wrestler in WWE and has hosted Saturday Night Live multiple times.
Secondly, the film works because Hart plays the straight man to Johnson’s awkward, possibly unhinged character. Despite being a hulking giant of a man and a physical specimen, the fat kid that had no friends still lurks in there for Bob, and it has manifested itself in unusual ways. He is socially awkward, loves unicorns and Sixteen Candles, and probably has a weird fixation/hero worship complex with Calvin, whom he always refers to as “Jet” from their high school years. Johnson’s, strangely enough, reminded me of Tom Cruise in Knight and Day, a 2010 action comedy starring Cruise and Cameron Diaz that I thought was slightly underrated. The film tries to leave a little bit of doubt as to whether Bob is just awkward or someone who has snapped and is unhinged, but that ultimately doesn’t work. And through all of this, we get to see Calvin react to the chaos going on around him. The film also features a few nice cameo roles by Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, and one uncredited cameo.
Honestly, I did not expect to enjoy Central Intelligence as much as I did. Kevin Hart films tend to be hit or miss. He was paired with Will Ferrell last year in Get Hard and that movie fell completely flat and was severely lacking in funny material. Dwayne Johnson has really established himself as a legitimate box office draw, especially in action movies. However, with lighter fare, he has been more hit or miss. This one definitely hit. The two leads have great comedic timing together. The physical comedy of the movie is highly entertaining. While some of the story is a bit absurd and not all of the pieces work entirely, Central Intelligence is a satisfying, enjoyable summer action comedy film.
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars