The key to “Central Intelligence,” a new action comedy comedy from “Easy A” director Rawson Marshall Thurber, will be the rapport between stars Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart. Physically they’re Laurel and Hardy, Johnson is at least one foot taller than Hart and weighs a hundred pounds more, but physicality aside, do they have the chemistry to pull this off?
Today Bob Stone (Johnson) is a CIA assassin who bears an uncanny resemblance to wrestler The Rock. He’s a mountain of a man but that wasn’t always the case. In 1996 he was a ninety-pound weakling so teased by his classmates even his principal says, “Well, there’s no coming back from that,” after one particularly humiliating hazing stunt.
On the other end of the high school scale is Calvin Joyner (Hart). Popular, he was homecoming king and voted most likely to succeed. He is, as the principal says, “Everybody’s favourite all round guy.” The future buttoned-down accountant was also the only kid in school to treat Bob with any humanity.
When Bob reconnects with Calvin on Facebook Calvin has a hard time remembering his former classmate. “You lost like two hundred pounds,” he says when they meet in person. Bob is now a CIA agent, but there’s a problem. The agency thinks he has gone rogue and is now a terrorist trying to hawk classified military secrets. To help clear his name Bob enlists Calvin. “Bottom line,” he says, “are you in or are you out?” Calvin wants out. “I thought you’d go, ‘I’m in Bob!’” says Stone, “and we would have a really cool moment but you kind of ruined that.” Of course Calvin is in, otherwise there’d be no action in this comedy.
The good news is Johnson and Hart have chemistry. They click. The bad news is the script doesn’t give them much to work with. There is the occasional funny moment but frankly, “Central Intelligence” rarely garners more than a titter from an audience who want to laugh, who want desperately for Hart to let loose or Johnson to display the kind of comedy chops he’s showed on “Saturday Night Live” and the kind of action aptitude he’s shown, well, everywhere else. Instead we’re handed a tepid action movie with badly choreographed fight scenes, few laughs and anti-bullying pop psychology better suited to an afterschool special.
What could have been a vehicle that played up to its star’s strengths is little more than a generic action flick that fails to let us smell what the Rock has cooking.