“Central Intelligence” Review: A Lot of Hart, Not a Lot of Heart

Courtesy of Warner Brothers
Courtesy of Warner Brothers

To be honest, I was really hoping for Central Intelligence to succeed. Kevin Hart is probably the hardest working actor in Hollywood, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is probably the most charismatic. Them together should be a match made in heaven. However, a movie like Central Intelligence proves that a film is only as strong as its screenplay.

One has to wonder what Central Intelligence was before Hart and Jonson signed on. Was the movie written specifically for them? Or did a brilliant agent discover that this mediocre script could serve as a passable vehicle? Because director Rawson Marshall Thurber also had a hand in writing the screenplay, my thought is that it was written on spec and then changed significantly to accommodate its two stars. I could very well be wrong – Hollywood is a crazy place – but Central Intelligence is about as generic as it gets.

This buddy-cop story opens on our heroes in high school. Calvin Joyner (Hart) is the school’s all-star student, whereas Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) is fat and more than a little bit nerdy. There is a moment when Weirdicht is traumatized and Joyner helps him out a bit, but then the two of them part ways. 20 years later, Weirdicht is Dwayne Johnson, the CIA agent while Joyner is Kevin Hart, the accountant. Weirdicht takes Joyner on a crazy journey to save the world… though the global stakes are never very well established.

Maybe a few moments got lost in the translation from page to screen. There are some neat introductions to a theme about loyalty and identity, but they seem a bit muddled. Perhaps in the quest to tailor the script towards Hart and Johnson, some of the clarity was lost. Similarly, while Hart’s improvisations often bring life to a script, here they seem to drag the pacing down. There are also a lot of redundancies within the dialogue and story, which doesn’t help.

The screenplay doesn’t make a lot of the tough decisions, but also doesn’t seem to have the flexibility to adapt, which is a shame because the cast is all top-notch. As previously mentioned, Hart and Johnson should be a dynamic duo, but something seems off. Neither actor plays the straight man, so there is nothing to ground the ridiculousness of everything. They each individually shine in certain moments, but there’s a certain missing spark. The rest of the cast features high-profile actors such as Kumail Nanjiani, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, but their roles all seem a bit miscast.

The technical elements of production are all pretty inconsistent as well. The camera angles are often awkward (I get that it’s hard to shoot Hart and Johnson in the same frame, but there are even singles that look poorly filmed), the action sequences are mediocre at best and the editing could use some work. In addition, the film is not just lacking a consistent tone, but a tone of any sort. There are a lot of pieces in play, but they don’t all seem to belong to the same puzzle.

There could have been a million reasons why things happened the way they did and why the final product is so lackluster, but I think the major problem was a lack of commitment. Not just within the narrative, but within the production. It appears as though the movie has been through too many drafts and too many directions, causing it to lose its heart along the way. There are quite a few good moments along the way, and the film is by no means unwatchable, but it’s lacking some major foresight… or central intelligence.

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