There aren’t many smarts on display in Central Intelligence, the latest testosterone-fueled action-comedy off the Hollywood assembly line.
The two intentionally mismatched stars seems to have fun playing slightly against type, although moviegoers might not share their enthusiasm for a mix of buddy comedy, revenge fantasy, and espionage thriller that never fully commits to any of them.
The film opens with a flashback, showing Bob (Dwayne Johnson) as an ostracized fat kid who’s relentlessly bullied. The only classmate to show some compassion is Calvin (Kevin Hart), a track star and the school’s homecoming king.
Twenty years later, the roles have essentially reversed, with the diminutive Calvin as a fledgling accountant — although he did marry his high-school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet) — and Bob as a buffed-up tough guy whose nerdy roots are reflected in his affection for fanny packs, unicorns, and cinnamon pancakes.
After a chance social-media encounter, the two reminisce at a bar, where Bob wipes out some ruffians before vaguely promising Calvin a job.
The following day, a CIA investigator (Amy Ryan) knocks on Calvin’s door, claiming Bob is a rogue agent with violent tendencies. But Bob keeps showing up anyway, whisking the reluctant Calvin — who’s not sure if his new associate is a hero or villain — from one perilous adventure to the next.
As the plot bogs down in convoluted nonsense about satellite encryption codes and arms-trading terrorists, it’s doubtful anyone will be paying much attention outside of the punch lines, which might be fine with director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball).
There are some scattered big laughs — at one point, Calvin contends his unlikely partner is “like Jason Bourne with jorts” — in large part due to the rapport of the two stars and their ability to milk the odd-couple pairing.
The concept is more about rapid-fire sight gags and one-liners than emotional resonance, but the labored screenplay by a trio of writers doesn’t give its charismatic leading men much to work with. Johnson’s character is cartoonish and completely detached from reality, while Hart is left to act straitlaced and befuddled without much depth behind his motor-mouthed dialogue.
At any rate, the set-up doesn’t yield much of a payoff, and despite a few amusing cameos, Central Intelligence is more obnoxious than endearing. It’s the actors who have gone rogue, and in this case, that’s probably for the best.