Comedies can come in all forms, shapes and sizes from spoofs to send-ups to action to romance to anything else you can think of. Some of the best comedies come from mixing laughs with another film element that may sometimes ignore audiences’ sense of humor, but this presents the challenge of needing to successfully tackle two genres in order to succeed. Rawson Marshall Thurber attempts to accomplish this feat with his spy-comedy ‘Central Intelligence’ starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
‘CI’ follows high school all-star Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) who lives a life that should be successful and happy by all normal accounts but is leaving him wanting a little more. Much more than a little more enters his life when he becomes entangled in a CIA conspiracy involving a possibly rogue agent, Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), who just so happens to be a high school classmate of Calvin’s. Shenanigans ensue of course as we bounce back and forth with Calvin as he tries to figure out if Bob is on the side of the good guys or not while being chased by criminals and CIA agents alike.
‘CI’ opens with a scene taking place during a high school prep rally where we are introduced to a de-aged Hart as Calvin who is the quintessential all-star jock stud who is being presented with a student award, all the while Johnson’s Bob Stone (known as Robby Weirdick at this point) is drug from the locker room shower fully nude (this is quite the rotund man, you should know) and thrown into the middle of the gymnasium for all to see. Whew! That’s a lot for just the beginning of the description. This scene is used to setup for the audience that while Calvin was a jock, he was also a genuinely good dude in high school as he is the only one who sticks up for Bob, giving him his letterman’s jacket to cover up. We then flash forward 20 years where we are introduced to a Calvin who is working as an accountant and looks very similar as well as a 20 year older Bob Stone who looks like the Dwayne Johnson that we all know and love.
The reintroduction of Calvin and Bob gives us our first glimpse of the action that Thurber is capable of directing, giving us a Jason Bourne-esque moment where several thuggish guys are taken out with very little effort by Bob in a dive-bar. This sequence sets the pace for the action throughout the rest of the movie which I can confidently say is a notch above competent. That means it’s good folks, don’t let that description scare you off. Thurber is aided by the raw physicality that Johnson brings as well as the comedic addition of Hart being so starkly juxtaposed with Johnson. His smaller stature and feeble nature is used for comedic success time and time again. The actors use their chemistry to deliver great action while the locations and scenarios that these sequences take place in never let you forget that you are watching a comedy.
All of this is aided by the undeniable chemistry that Hart and Johnson have together. Both of these actors have proven themselves as comedic talents but two funny dudes doesn’t always make a great comedic movie. While Hart is definitely playing his usual self, Johnson makes some serious acting decisions right out of the gate and plays a character we haven’t seen from him before. This is at first disorienting but I quickly adjusted to the decisions he was making and grew to enjoy it quickly. Add to this the little character quirks that each of them bring to the table as well as a talented supporting cast including Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman and Aaron Paul and you have a great comedic outing.
Thurber is able to utilize his cast effectively, deliver more-than-adequate action and utilize the humorous flavor that Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen put to paper in a fantastic way. I haven’t been this surprised by my enjoyment of a movie since last year’s ‘The Intern’, and this crew did it without the help of Bobby De Niro. For fans of comedy, action, spy-thrillers or all of the above, ‘Central Intelligence’ is worth the trip to the theater.