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Central Intelligence's press notes actually lay bare the precise reason why the sprightly comedy is nowhere near as funny as it should have been.
In them Dwayne Johnson explains that he was attracted to Central Intelligence because it put him "in more of the comedy role" while Kevin Hart, "one of the world's most successful comedians, a guy who's just on fire, [is] in more of the straight role."
This is a sentiment that Kevin Hart echoes, as he added, "I'm pretty much the straight man in this film and Dwayne carries the comedy load, which we thought would be refreshing and fun, and something different." Hart was right. This topsy-turvy approach is different. But not better.
Instead, it stifles Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson, as well as Central Intelligence itself. Neither seem entirely suited to their roles, but it speaks volumes of their combined magnetism that even when they're suppressed they're still able to create a compelling warmth and energy. But rather than it emphatically elevating Central Intelligence, it simply allows it to enjoyably simmer.
Central Intelligence opens 20 years ago, where the overweight Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson) is thrown naked into his high school assembly, leading his entire class to erupt with laughter at him. All except for Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart), the most popular kid in school, who everyone believes will go on to do great things, and who helps Robbie out.
In the present day, it turns out that Calvin has far from lived up to his potential. He's stuck in a dead-end accounting job, his marriage is in a rut, and he can't face attending his impending high school reunion because he's too embarrassed at how he's turned out. But when Robbie Weirdicht turns up back in town for the soiree looking like a WWE wrestler, working as a CIA Agent, and having changed his name to Bob Stone, Calvin's kindly actions two decades earlier suddenly lead to him being sucked into the dangerous world of espionage. The question is, can Calvin trust Bob Stone? Or is the CIA agent just using Calvin as protection after going rogue?
Unfortunately this element of mystery, which is designed to hook the audience and make them lean into the plot, just overcomplicates Central Intelligence. And when coupled with the needless switching of its leading men, it basically renders Central Intelligence as Scooby Doo meets Freaky Friday, just with a more formidable leading pair. Sorry, Shaggy.
You can only suspend your disbelief for so long, and Central Intelligence doesn't do a good enough job of convincing you that Calvin wouldn't just run to the police and seek protection for him and his wife, rather than constantly being brought back into Bob's explosive antics. But even those disappoint. The lack of directorial flair from Rawson Marshall Thurber is indicative of just how stale the action-comedy genre has become, as Central Intelligence's set pieces are so mediocre and ill-thought-out that your attention is instantly drawn to how shoddily they've been assembled, rather than the rambling plot that's trying to unfold, but fumbling.
To solely blame and highlight Central Intelligence is unfair, as this is an issue that's been rife in the genre for a while, with The Brothers Grimsby, Keanu, and Ride Along 2 all delivering tepid stunts and action in just 2016 alone. If you recall, Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Bad Boys, and Beverly Hills Cop had genuine thrills in them as well as high-calibre, consistent jokes. What happened to that blend?
Speaking of which, there's also a paltry amount of laughs to compensate for Central Intelligence's needlessly dizzying plot, which just seems to circle around and around until it ties itself into a tedious knot before pathetically unravelling. Sure, you'll smile and be adequately pleased just spending time in the company of Johnson and Hart - two dynamic and undeniably charming personalities who can't help but light up the screen with their combined presence. But it's not enough. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are the best at what they do, which is being a muscle-bound everyman and irascible, vivacious funny man with a delicious wit, respectively. Hart especially has the potential to be a global megastar à la Eddie Murphy. But he's still yet to find the cinematic commodity that impresses both critics and mainstream audiences alike.
Central Intelligence should have been the vehicle that combined them together in a rollicking, high-octane and hilarious fashion. But they over-thought and messed with the formula. I still pine to see Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson paired again, though. Because I know it could work. Especially since, I can't help but think that if they'd switched roles in this then Central Intelligence would have delivered everything that audiences wanted, instead of bitterly underwhelming.