Movie review: Johnson, Hart save 'Central Intelligence' (sort of)

Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service (TNS)
  • Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart star in "Central Intelligence"
  • 2 1/2 stars out of 4

Did you know that America has two sweethearts? Obviously, they are Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. This is a fact. So what happens when these two nuclear bombs of charm share one screen? Their sheer charisma manages to breathe life into a flimsy and forgettable action comedy. If "Central Intelligence" is worth seeing, it's only for the one-two punch of Johnson and Hart doing what they do best.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Dodgeball," "We're the Millers"), who also shares writing credit with Ike Barinholtz (comedian/actor from "Neighbors" and "The Mindy Project") and David Stassen, the script is powered by a healthy appreciation for internet memes and a rather thin rogue CIA agent plot wrapped around a high school reunion premise. The story isn't all that important to the enjoyment of "Central Intelligence," but it gives us the opportunity to enjoy Hart's inimitably hilarious indignant sputtering, playing the straight man to Johnson's weirdo comic stylings.
Johnson plays Bob Stone, formerly known as Robbie Weirdicht (hope you're not reading this review out loud), who was a chubby, bullied kid in high school, though a very good dancer with a thing for En Vogue. His brutal nude humiliation in front of the whole school at the hands of bully Trevor (who grows up to be Jason Bateman, doubling down on his innate jerky qualities) opens the film. But ugly duckling Robbie blossoms into the swan Bob, a strapping man of a singular physique and a very specific set of Jason Bourne-style combat skills.

Kevin Hart, left, and Dwayne Johnson star in "Central Intelligence." The movie is playing at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13, Frank Theatres Queensgate Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

On the eve of their 20th high school reunion, Bob Facebooks the one kid who was nice to him in those days, the coolest guy in school, Calvin Joyner (Hart). Straight-laced accountant Calvin, married to his high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) is in a slump, and when the muscular, strapping oddball Bob shows up, it's a welcome distraction for Calvin. What's not so welcome is the CIA at his door, led by Agent Harris (Amy Ryan), claiming Bob is a murderous psycho and rogue agent. There's a bunch of spy stuff about faked deaths, transaction numbers, offshore accounts, and Bob needing Calvin for his "forensic accounting" skills to get him out of this mess.

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But that's not what this movie's about. This movie is about bizarre little jokes, one-off riffs, Bob's ubiquitous leather fannypack, like the one Johnson sports in an early '90s photo widely circulated online; it's about "honeybadger" jokes, and Hart's nervous nelly routine that's so tightly wound that the wheels start to come off the bus. At one point, panicked, he confesses, "my greatest weakness is that I can't make bird noises," while ca-cawing futilely. It's so strange and yet so funny.

Kevin Hart, right, and Dwayne Johnson star in "Central Intelligence." The movie is playing at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13, Frank Theatres Queensgate Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

In playing the straight man, the guy who peaked in high school, Hart finally gives a real performance, not just his schtick. In fairness, his schtick is effective, it's what we want to see, and Hart parcels it out in just the right dosage. His turn eclipses Johnson's comedic one, though there's no denying the weapons-grade charm and likability that the man exudes onscreen. While "Central Intelligence" doesn't have much going for it beyond its leading men, the leading men just might be worth the price of admission.

2.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul, Jason Bateman, Ryan Hansen
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language.