Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart belong together
FameFlynet, Splash News
Central Intelligence is a perfectly serviceable, middle of the road comedy. It’s not bad, it’s not great. It’s okay. It has some good laughs, but they’re a little fewer and further in between than the filmmakers would have liked, I’m sure. (It has three credited writers, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, with director Rawson Marshall Thurber lending a hand.) Thurber is a competent director with a knack for action, so Central Intelligence looks fine, and Thurber attempts to use the camera to emphasize jokes. It doesn’t always work out, but A for effort, dude. Coming off the sharp satire and absurdist delight of Popstar, Central Intelligence feels a little flat—maybe it will play better with some distance from that other, wildly funny comedy.
The interesting thing about Central Intelligence is not the movie itself—it’s the stars, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. Individually, they both have proven comedy chops, and both are already successful entertainers and reliable box office performers. But together, they can be a great comedy duo. I would like to present the case of Hart & Johnson—our modern Abbott & Costello.
(I would also like to posit for future examination the case that Dwayne Johnson is the modern Lucille Ball: A universally appealing, self-perpetuating content machine who works across platforms, genres, and styles, and excels in every respect. Like Ball, Johnson isn’t settling for traditional forms of media but is exploring new spaces opened up by new technologies. In fifty years, people will study The Rock the way we study Lucy.)
Like Abbott & Costello, Hart and Johnson do broadly appealing comedy, and they can both do convincing physical humor as well as conversational humor. And both are flexible enough as performers to play straight men and wild cards, but in this scenario Hart is the straight man to Johnson’s wild card. Hart stars as Calvin Joyner, an accountant who peaked in high school, where he was the most popular, best-at-everything golden god of the student body. Hart does his Tightly Wound Guy routine, which plays really well against Johnson as Bob Stone, a perpetually happy CIA agent who likes unicorns and fanny packs. Back in high school, Bob was an overweight friendless loser who suffers a bullying incident so mean it will make you physically recoil. He’s bailed out in the moment by Calvin, and twenty years later Bob calls on Calvin for his help once again.
The actual plot doesn’t really matter—there’s a computer doohickey, because when is there not?—what matters is Hart and Johnson bouncing off each other. At one point they do a verbal exchange that, while not nearly as sharp as “Who’s On First”, follows the same rhythm and escalation. They nail the rapid-fire repartee, and it’s not hard to imagine what they could do with stronger material to work with. Too often Central Intelligence stops to explain some element of the ludicrous spy plot, cutting off Hart & Johnson riffing on whatever. Let them riff! This is the fun of putting them together on screen. We already knew they are both talented, but we didn’t know they’d mesh so well as scene partners. We don’t need a Central Intelligence 2, but someone should immediately start looking for another co-starring vehicle for Hart & Johnson.
Attached - The Rock and Kevin Hart at the Los Angeles premiere of Central Intelligence earlier this month.