Central Intelligence *

Strained buddy comedy labors for laughs and decent action — it’s a disappointment, to be sure.

Is it worth $10? No

“Central Intelligence” is an unfunny, horrid slog of a movie. Contrary to its title, it has no intelligence. The story isn’t clever, it’s contrived and inane. The action is neither interesting nor exciting. With Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson as the leads, you’d expect Hart to be annoying while Johnson plays it cool, but it’s just the opposite: Hart plays it straight (and isn’t funny), while Johnson hams it up as a unicorn-loving, fanny-pack wearing CIA agent (and isn’t funny).

The setup of co-writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (“We’re the Millers”) film is simple and also illogical: Calvin (Hart) was the guy everyone wanted to be in high school, and now 20 years later is a forensic accountant. Importantly, he is and always has been a genuinely nice guy. Bob (Johnson) was overweight and bullied in high school, and now works for the CIA. Also importantly, he was a victim and is now an insufferably annoying, clingy and manipulative liar. It’s as if Thurber and the other writers (Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen) sat in a room and said, “Hey, let’s have Hart play against type and not be annoying, and Johnson do the same and irritate the crap out of everyone.” Bad idea. Doesn’t work.

The plot: Bob works his way back into Calvin’s life because he needs Calvin’s accounting skills to figure out the meeting place of the buyer and seller of encrypted satellite codes. Complicating matters is CIA Agent Pam Harris (Amy Ryan), who thinks Bob is the seller and is trying to arrest him.

It’s never funny, but it is painful to see it clearly trying to be funny and not connecting. For example, early on Calvin talks about his life right now with his wife (Danielle Nicolet) while at lunch, and you know he’s telling jokes to the best of his ability, but they’re just not landing. Like, the sound of silence permeating the theater not landing. Why is it like this? The jokes are redundant – they’re Calvin dwelling on how hard his life is, which has already been established by this point. Hart gets a few decent one-liners in throughout the movie, but many of the jokes lack creativity and inspiration. 

Johnson struggles more than Hart. His Bob is supposed to be kooky and eccentric, but he comes off as faux charming odious. Worse, he’s leading Calvin on this path of saving the world, yet he never takes anything seriously, even when he’s clearly making Calvin (whom he proclaims to have nothing but love and respect for) out of his comfort zone and literally forces him to help. It might have aided the humor if we didn’t spend so much time feeling sorry for Calvin as big bully Bob (who repeatedly says he hates bullies) forces Calvin to risk his life.

You know who you should really feel sorry for though? The supporting cast. They were no doubt led to believe they’d be a small highlight in a film full of laughs, but they end up either lost in the middle of it all (Ryan, Nicolet) or flailing lifelessly in a cameo (Aaron Paul, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy all appear). In the film business you have to trust others to make you look good; in “Central Intelligence,” nobody looks good. Bad job by all.

Did you know?
Stay for the credit cookies – they’re the funniest part of the movie.

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