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EXCEEDING LOW EXPECTATIONS: ‘Central Intelligence’ is saved by good chemistry

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Noted academic, educator and economist Noreena Hertz said, “All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome we want.” Many movie critics believe themselves to be objective; they possess a level of education and skill which allows them to walk into a theater and watch a film without any kind of previously established bias. Let me go ahead and clear up that delusion: Everyone walks into a movie theater with a certain degree of bias. If I’m walking into the annual Pixar movie, I know I’m going to be watching a very well made, aesthetically pleasing film with redundant themes that will probably leave me in a state of bemused ambivalence. I don’t need to see a trailer or have any inkling of the plot. Once I see Pixar’s logo, cinematic biases soar.

COMEDIC SURPRISE: Despite low expectations, The Rock and Kevin Hart make a very funny team in ‘Central Intelligence.’ Courtesy photo.

COMEDIC SURPRISE: Despite low expectations, The Rock and Kevin Hart make a very funny team in ‘Central Intelligence.’ Courtesy photo.

I had plenty of biases about “Central Intelligence,” the new action comedy starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart. The minute I saw the first commercial I balked. Another Kevin Hart movie? Another Dwayne Johnson movie? These guys are churning out mediocre product at a rate that would make Kentucky Fried Chicken furious with fried envy. I’m a fan of both Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. Each are charismatic and always put in maximum effort when trying to entertain audiences. Still, a lot of their output has been, at best, marginally entertaining.

So here we are again—another Mad Libs: The Film Edition…

Kevin Hart is a (PROPER NOUN) who is struggling with (PERSONAL CRISIS). He runs into Dwayne Johnson who’s a (JOB TITLE). They have to team up to try and prevent (NATURAL DISASTER) and by the end of their adventures they’ll end up (verb ending in “ing”).

In “Central Intelligence,” Kevin Hart is a former high-school hero who is struggling with adulthood. He runs into Dwayne Johnson, who’s a former classmate and CIA agent. They have to team up to prevent government secrets from being stolen, and by the end of their adventures, they’ll end up best friends. However, there’s a little more to that basic premise. Bob (Dwayne Johnson) used to be the fat kid in high school and was mercilessly picked on by his fellow students. Calvin (Kevin Hart) was “Most Likely to Succeed.” On the eve of their 20-year reunion, Bob takes Calvin out for a drink. Bob has changed. He’s no longer the chubby schlub from high school. Now he’s a ripped, jort-wearing CIA agent who kicks ass and takes names.

Things haven’t been as exciting for Calvin, who went from big-man-on-campus to low-man-on-the-totem pole at an accounting firm. Sure, he married his high-school sweetheart and has a pretty standard suburban life, but he’s plagued by the idea that his life has been a disappointment. He has little interest in going to his reunion and dealing with the judgement of not delivering on the promise of greatness. Greatness is soon thrust upon him as Bob gets Calvin involved in a terrorist plot to buy some satellite codes that could give the bad guys accessibility to top-secret hardware. The stakes are about as high as Peter Dinklage burrowing to the center of the earth, but the whole spy story is nothing more than a piece of flypaper to provide our heroes some sticky steps as they head toward an inevitable conclusion.

This is one of those movies that is saved by remedial chemistry. Johnson and Hart are so good together. It helps that Johnson is playing a nerd trapped in the body of a killing machine. Hart is basically playing himself, but for some reason this pairing really works. The comedy they produce is funny and often surprising. There were contrived moments that still worked because of the right chemistry between the leads.

“Central Intelligence” is saved from mediocrity by two winning actors and their ability to make audiences care in spite of every predictable plot point.  Dwayne Johnson has a real penchant for comedy and makes for a great pairing with Kevin Hart. It’s a pleasant comedic surprise that exceeds remarkably low expectations. 

Central Intelligence
Three out of five stars
Rated PG-13
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Danielle Nicolet

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