Central Intelligence

 

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Former high school pupils Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart team up in a grown-up world of accountancy, hard feelings and firearms….

 

Central Intelligence

   

There’s a long tradition in Hollywood of pairing up tough guys with funny guys: Schwarzenegger and DeVito, Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill… and it usually works. Here, though, the device is given a neat twist, in which Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Kevin Hart are not so much thrown together as are a double-act waiting to happen. Twenty years ago, at an end-of-term ‘pep rally’ at Central High in Woodberry, Maryland, the all-achieving Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is voted the student most likely to succeed. Or, in the words of the school’s distinguished, grey-haired principal (Phil Reeves): “I wish he were my son – if I were medically able to have children.” Meanwhile, in the showers, the resident fat boy Robbie Wheirdicht is abducted and, stark naked, rolled out in front of the whole school. In the words of the principal: “Well, there’s no coming back from that!” But shame and humiliation is exactly what drove Wheirdicht to change his name (obviously) and bench-press his way to a new life. Twenty years later he has been transformed into The Rock and poor Calvin has been reduced to a life of suburban drudgery in an accountants’ office. Life can be like that.

   

The director Rawson Marshall Thurber previously brought us the highly successful Dodgeball and the very funny We’re the Millers and, comically, he knows what works. First you find a strong premise, then cast two stars who generate good chemistry, cram the thing with enough throwaway gags to sustain repeated viewings and back it all up with accomplished actors in support. Here, the big Johnson (6’4”) and little Hart (5’4”) play off each other like boxing rabbits, with Johnson having enormous fun at the expense of his own persona. “I’m a hugger,” he tells Calvin, embracing him in his new incarnation as CIA agent Ben Stone. And, following a rumpus in a bar in which Stone puts four bullies in their place, Calvin exclaims: “you’re Jason Bourne – with shorts.” But Stone has emotional issues and has never fully recovered from his high school degradation at the hands of the dastardly Trevor (played as a grown-up by Jason Bateman). And, he admits, “I’ll never be like Molly Ringwald.” 

 

While the one-liners keep on coming, the engine of the plot revs into high gear, in which Stone may or may not be a rogue agent, dragging Calvin into a madcap adventure involving an army of po-faced feds. As the steely-eyed, coffee-guzzling CIA honcho Pam Harris, Amy Ryan proves a perfect foil to the comic antics of her co-stars and everybody else plays it admirably straight. 

 

Unfortunately, as the action becomes increasingly more improbable, the film does lose some of its momentum. In fact, it ends up being all rather cheesy, and even a tad sentimental. A tighter rein on the slapstick might have produced something genuinely classy, although the dialogue continues to amuse to the very end. And you have to smile when, admiringly, Stone compliments his little friend with the glowing tribute: “You look like a black Will Smith.”

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, Thomas Kretschmann, Megan Park, Phil Reeves, Melissa McCarthy.

 

Dir Rawson Marshall Thurber, Pro Peter Principato, Scott Stuber and Paul Young, Ex Pro Michael Fottrell and Ed Helms, Screenplay Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ph Barry Peterson, Pro Des Stephen J. Lineweaver, Ed Brian Scott Olds and Michael L. Sale, Music Theodore Shapiro and Ludwig Göransson, Costumes Carol Ramsey.

 

New Line Cinema/Bluegrass Films/Principato-Young Entertainment/RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Perfect World Pictures-Universal Pictures.

107 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 29 June 2016. Cert. 12A.