Thursday, December 15, 2016

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (2016)



There’s no reason to expect anything but the usual tone-deaf (and deafening) crass-fest after seeing the trailer for Central Intelligence. But thankfully, although that advertising is trolling for the same audience, this Kevin Hart picture is no Ride Along or Ride Along 2. Hart plays a forensic accountant, disappointed by a routine life after his glory days as Central High BMOC, who is roped into the usual nonsensical sell-the-nuclear-codes-and-find-out-who’s-really-the-bad-guy plot by an old acquaintance, a sincere but insufferable and grossly overweight loser whom Hart once helped out of an awful public humiliation in high school. 

The joke is, that once-obese pal has, over the course of 20 years, morphed into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, still the same sweet, naïve, wounded guy from high school, yet now sculpted (and Johnson is nothing if not sculpted) into a CIA super-agent with mad fighting and murdering skills who may be working both sides of the danger.

The movie could have taken the usual route, bullying and bashing and fast-cutting its audience with nonstop sound and fury and crude jokes. And there’s plenty of all that, to be sure. 
But Central Intelligence takes its primary cue from its big, big star— for as much shooting and shouting and general mayhem as it packs in (there’s even a nifty sequence of what Joe Bob Briggs might have called motorcycle fu), it’s a surprisingly good-natured and, relatively speaking, easy-going affair.

And that nature keeps us watching, not because we’re interested in how the plot unfolds but because Johnson, who seems to not only be up for anything but capable of anything (his magnetism and confidence echoes that of Cary Grant), maintains such a lively tension between playing against type and delivering the expected goods. It may sound strange, but it’s nice to see an action comedy where bar fights and broken fingers and unexpected car crashes (director Rawson Marshall Thurber honors the Termite Terrace way by using the wide-screen frame to spring several keen vehicular sight gags) are almost always followed by a shrug and that mile-wide Johnson grin. 

So it’s sorta perfect that we end up caring more about the movie’s epilogue, set at Hart and Johnson’s 20-year class reunion, than the shopworn action that leads up to it. The preternaturally self-assured Johnson wouldn’t have it any other way, and if that personality can so blithely rescue such a shopworn premise as the one Central Intelligence is built around, then long may he Rock.

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1 comment:

Richard Smith said...

We watched this as a family based on your recommendation and we didn't get nearly the same mileage out of it, although I would agree with most of your talking points. (Well, except the one about Cary Grant.) I find Dwayne Johnson, as agreeable as a fellow as he seems to be, too self-conscious in his comedy for me to really be able to relax into it. I think he's better at being a light dramatic hero with a comic flavor than a comic actor. Also, I think Amy Ryan, stuck in a thankless supporting role here, is more naturally funny that either Johnson or Kevin Hart - she's even laugh out loud funny in GONE BABY GONE. I did chuckle a few times during CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE but it just made me want to watch MIDNIGHT RUN again.