Central Intelligence

 

I was thinking…

…an actor is akin to that oddest-looking of reptiles: the chameleon. With the ability to change its color to match its environment, the chameleon is a master of disguise. Like the lizard, truly gifted actors will also be able to lose themselves in any genre and change themselves to fill the role of any character.

There have been a handful of these truly great chameleons of stage and screen over the last century. Some modern ones, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman, Christian Bale and Charlize Theron, have all hopped from genre to genre and have portrayed such a vast array of characters and embodied their myriad personas so closely, the actor is often lost and unrecognizable.

Then there are the actors that should move to one genre, have their mail forwarded there and buy a freakin’ house, because they shouldn’t bother leaving.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson should be holding an annual barbecue in the action comedy.

Central Intelligence is Johnson’s latest trek around his block, as it were, as he and comedian Kevin Hart (Ride Along 2) team up in a truly humorous and even slightly mysterious buddy comedy.

Picked on due to his weight and social awkwardness, Robbie Wierdicht (Johnson) is humiliated near the end of his senior year of high school. The only person in the entire graduating class to stand up for him is the school hero, Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart).

Twenty years later, Calvin is married to his high school sweetheart, is financially successful, but, being an accountant, is consequently too boring to be of any interest. As their high school reunion looms, Calvin refuses to go because he believes he has nothing to show for the last 20 years of his life.

While slogging through another day at work, he receives a Facebook friend request from a man calling himself Bob Stone. Without thinking, Calvin accepts the request and soon discovers Bob Stone is really Robbie Wierdicht from high school.

Agreeing to meet with Bob, Calvin is shocked to find out the overweight, shy and awkward boy he barely knew from school is now a hulking, sculpted powerhouse of a man.

Bob is truly thrilled to see Calvin, and after a night of drinking and reminiscing, asks Calvin for some help with his financials. Figuring he’s simply doing a favor for a nice guy, Calvin agrees and is subsequently tagged by the U.S. government as a co-conspirator with Bob, who is on the run from his employer, the Central Intelligence Agency.

Accused of murdering his partner and stealing satellite codes to sell on the black market to a terrorist called The Badger, Bob wants to clear his name, avenge his partner’s death and take down the real Badger. Unfortunately, Bob wants Calvin to help him do all of it.

Central Intelligence is Johnson truly in his milieu. Although he has the body of an action hero, his acting chops are far better suited for the humorous variety of the genre. A second generation professional wrestler, not taking acting too seriously clearly runs in the Johnson family blood.

Not that he won’t stop trying to prove otherwise. But seeing him take on roles like those of Agent Hobbs in the Fast and Furious films and, worse still, the iconic Roadblock in the multi-million dollar crapfest, G.I.Joe, Johnson has proven time and again, no matter how seriously he wants to be taken as an actor, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Instead, the character of Bob–at once lovable and pitiable–is right up his alley. Although he resides in a herculean frame, he still sees himself as a little fat kid while still perceiving Calvin as his personal hero, capable of mighty feats.

Perhaps to better round out the character, he also fails to truly listen to others, especially when they are telling him no. I think we all know somebody like that. Although such a trait is infuriating in real life, in the film it simply adds a layer of humor that would be sorely missed were it not present.

Hilarious and diminutive Kevin Hart surprises us nicely as well, considering he plays the straight man to Johnson’s laugh-getting giant goofball.

A film like this is usually quite predictable from start to finish, but there is a nagging doubt as to whether or not Bob Stone is really the jovial secret agent he portrays or if he is the threat his employer believes him to be. That lingering mystery should keep the average viewer guessing nearly until the end of the film–unless you enjoy the art of deduction, like yours truly. In that case, you’ll have the last 15 minutes of the film mapped out in your head by the end of the first 15 minutes of the film.

Each 15 minutes courses past rapidly though. There are few slow moments and fewer humorless ones. Comedian cameos litter that landscape, adding a few unexpected guffaws to the mix.

Although it does not take a particularly strong central intelligence to figure out the Central Intelligence playbook, the Big Johnson/Little Hart team-up works out extremely well. At times fumbling and once in a while capable, their world of espionage is entertaining and ridiculous, and you can’t help but pray the real world of espionage does not look a thing like theirs–because that wouldn’t be as much funny as frightening.

Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 fanny packs

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ALphaEXray.

Central Intelligence
Rated PG-13
Run time: 107 minutes (1 hour 47 minutes)

 

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