Movie Review: “Central Intelligence” – It Is What It Is

Written by Matt Butler June 23, 2016


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Central Intelligence
didn’t annoy me, and that’s probably the best I can say about it. It’s a cheap-looking movie that never tries to be anything above that distinction, but at the very least, it’s never cynical. This isn’t one of those wink-wink spy comedies beating you over the head with how stale and contrived the spy-comedy sub-genre is (21 Jump Street did that just fine). Central Intelligence is one of those “wouldn’t it be funny” kind of movies, like wouldn’t it be funny if that tubby kid from high school grew up to be The Rock, and he was a CIA agent, and you were the only person he could trust? Yeah, that is a pretty funny idea, and at times, even makes for a funny movie. At times.

The movie starts with a pretty solid conceit: perceptions of adulthood vs. actual adulthood. Back in 1996, Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the high school jock with a heart of gold, a beautiful girlfriend and a promising future, and Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson) was the chubby loser. Present day adulthood works to juxtapose these two, physically and professionally, with Calvin working a desk job, and Robbie being played by The Rock (he’s also a secret agent, but really, when you’re The Rock, what else do you need?). Most of the film holds true to this then/now dichotomy, and if anything, it makes for an endearing connection between Hart and Johnson. By the way, props to whoever thought up “Saving The World Takes A Little Hart And A Big Johnson”. Pure genius. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole movie was made just to service that tagline.

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“You’re like a chocolate Google.”

Hart and Johnson are easily the best part of the movie, simply because they’re such a perfect combo. It’s that opposites attract thing I talked about in my last review “He’s a desk-job accountant who always plays by the rules, and his friend is a rogue CIA agent. New Line Cinema presents Central Intelligence.” (and wouldn’t you know it, it IS New Line Cinema! Nice accuracy, Mulaney!) Hart and Johnson have an indelible chemistry, with Hart as the exasperated everyman and Johnson as the amiable foil and bringer of chaos. Some of their best moments are when the story takes a back seat to the jokes, which seem more improvised than story-driven anyway. Even when the scene isn’t focused on the comedy (or when the jokes just fall flat) their chemistry still feels completely authentic.

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“I just did one thing. I worked out six hours a day, every day, for the last twenty years straight.”

Everything else about the movie leaves much to be desired, but it’s the editing and camera work in particular that keeps this movie from having any sort of impact. Why? Well, as far as the action of punches and kicks go, you hardly feel like anyone’s taking any damage. A prime example is Calvin’s back flip. As he makes the jump, the camera jumps from a medium close-up to a long shot (because stunt double), but just as Calvin is about to hit the ground on his stomach, the camera goes back to a medium close up, Since we can’t see his whole body hit the ground, the hit doesn’t feel real, and it deflates the punch of the joke (oddly, the trailer shows the full hit). It’s this fast editing that intentionally obscures movements so an actor can blend seamlessly with a stunt double. However, after you notice every stunt obscures the actor’s face, you get pulled out of the legitimacy of the action. For more on how this is wrong and how to do it right, check out this video from Every Frame A Painting.

Honestly though, I don’t think this is a movie worth nitpicking. Central Intelligence knows what it is, it knows we know what it is, and it knows not to sell itself as anything more than what it is, a lightweight spy comedy. It’s hard to fault a movie for lack of trying when you never really expected it to. I got exactly what I was expecting from this movie, and I’m pretty sure so did everyone else in the theatre. Central Intelligence is intelligent enough not to challenge itself cinematically because it knows its audience isn’t willing to be challenged. What it is selling though are two funny and likable stars who do everything this flimsy film allows them to in order to entertain. Hart and Johnson get an A for effort, but the movie itself just can’t be bothered.

My Rating: 6/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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