Published Jun 17, 2016Continuing Kevin Hart's ultra-safe quest to become a movie star by plugging himself into familiar action-comedies featuring mismatched duos like Ride Along and its sequel, Central Intelligence finds him overshadowed here by a winning comic performance from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and eventually overwhelmed by a generic plot that's too content to chase its own tail. Sure, it's not without its funny moments, but too often, the comedy is waylaid by expositional passages with nary a laugh in sight.
We first meet Calvin (Hart) and Robert (Johnson) in high school. The former is the picture of popularity, while the latter is an overweight outcast who's regularly subjected to intense ridicule. Twenty years later, Calvin's now stuck working a boring office job crunching numbers when Robert suddenly shows up again in his life on the eve of their high school reunion — except he's been re-branded as Bob Stone and is built like a professional wrestler.
What Calvin soon learns is that Bob's a CIA agent who's gone rogue and is looking for some mysterious codes that could bring about the end of the world, in what might rank as one of the worst McGuffins in the history of meaningless plot devices. With Calvin using his number-crunching abilities to decipher where to find the codes — and while being doggedly pursued by fellow CIA agent Harris (Amy Ryan) and a team of operatives — Robert nonchalantly leads his reluctant sidekick through a series of half-baked and increasingly redundant action scenes where you're never quite sure who's the bad guy. All that's known is he's a mysterious figure known as the "Black Badger."
Despite its deficiencies in story, the movie is nearly redeemed by Johnson, in one of his finest roles to date as a friendless, emotionally damaged teddy bear of a man who's into unicorns and sleeps with his beloved fanny pack. Utilizing both his brawny physique and his goofy comic timing, Johnson has never seemed to have this much fun with a performance. While it's difficult to entirely upstage Hart thanks to his incessant nattering, he can't help but be overshadowed here by Johnson's showier character.
These kinds of films usually depend on the chemistry between its two leads, and it's definitely there between Hart and Johnson. Many of the film's funniest moments are in the opening scenes, when the two are getting re-acquainted, before the gears of the plot start grinding. But by the time we get to the end, we can barely remember what their whole wild goose chase was even about in the first place. The two leads deserve a better movie than this — preferably one that knows how to get out of their way.