Central Intelligence (2016)

(Video on Demand, October 2016) As much as I like Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson as comic performers, there’s something off with Central Intelligence that makes the film feel smaller than their combination would suggest. To its credit, the film does veer off in less simplistic territory than you could expect from the first few minutes: there’s a layer of uncertainty to Johnson’s character that makes the story a bit more self-challenging than expected, even though the ultimate outcome of the various twists is never in doubt. Unfortunately, it’s that same uncertainly that so often prevents the film from snapping fully in focus. Johnson’s character is pushed to such extremes that it’s tough to suspend disbelief that he would exist even in the film’s reality. It doesn’t help that Central Intelligence, in much of the same way as other contemporary action/comedy hybrids, veers back and forth between persona-based improvisation and strictly scripted madcap action scenes. The uneven pacing is an issue, especially when the result runs close to two hours. At least the two lead actors deliver more or less what’s expected of them. Johnson is ready to try anything for a laugh and his charisma helps the film hide some of its more inconsistent problems, but Hart seems a bit held back by the place taken by his co-star and the demands of the production—he’s usually better in more free-flowing films. As for the rest, director Rawson Marshall Thurber keeps things going during the action scenes, perhaps further highlighting the two-speed inconsistency of the film. Still, if you’re in the mood to see Johnson and Hart goof on their respective personas, Central Intelligence will do … although it’s not hard to be disappointed by how much better the film should have been.

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