Central Intelligence – Review (***)

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The irresistible pairing of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart elevates a fairly so-so script, for while this spy caper won’t stick long in the mind, it’s still a pleasant enough jaunt thanks to its leads’ chemistry and go-for-broke commitment to the material.

Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the most popular kid at his high school, but that was his peak, having transitioned into a safe but boring career as an accountant in adulthood. One day, he again crosses paths with the school’s laughing stock, Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), who has since lost his excess weight and transformed into a muscled badass. When the CIA turn up on Calvin’s door, believing that Robbie is a corrupt agent gone rogue, the pair are forced to go on the run to clear his name before it’s too late.

Central Intelligence certainly has a shaky start, but once Dwayne Johnson shows up at around the 15-minute mark, it seems to find its stride. The real fun here is in seeing Johnson play a more unstable and quirky character than usual; he’s not strictly the stoic, musclebound hero we’re used to, but all that with a side order of unhinged and goofy.

Furthermore, he manages to reign in Hart’s more excessive tendencies for the most part, resulting in a pairing that has undeniable franchise potential, even if one might hope for a little more ambition in the way of both narrative and filmmaking next time.

Indeed, the spy narrative doesn’t arrive until the end of the first act and is basically, as expected, total nonsense. It’s an excuse to have Rocky and Kev blow things up and crack one-liners, and it works, even if it’s incredibly unambitious. Some incredibly workmanlike direction from Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) sadly doesn’t add much flavour, giving the pic a flat aesthetic outside of a few solid action and chase beats (which may have been filmed by the second unit).

The film does just fine when it plays up the central bromance, though is less-assured when it attempts to get serious or emotional; we’re just not bonded enough to these two characters to much care about their friendship beyond the surface level of the jokes. Maybe we might buy it a little easier in the sequel when it’s had more time to breathe.

It’s a fairly mild effort all things considered and probably too long for what it is, and it’s telling that some of the funniest moments are in the mid-credits outtakes, but Central Intelligence is gently entertaining thanks to the infectiously enthusiastic cast, especially Johnson, who continues to improve pretty much anything he’s in. It’s just a shame this one wasn’t rated R to truly get the most out of the Hart and Johnson combo.

***

Central Intelligence is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas June 29

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