When I first heard about this film, I sighed. Not another Kevin Hart film! We all enjoy him as a stand-up comedian, but why? Well, we know why. He understands commercially-produced films are equivalent to striking gold. Anyone would hit that pot of gold and unfortunately, audiences continue to watch films of this type, so the money keeps rolling in. You cannot fault him for it. We can only fault ourselves. I think what knocked me back is that after watching Central Intelligence I felt pleasantly surprised.
The film begins by addressing a subject I never thought it would – bullying. Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) was bullied as a teen for being overweight. And then enters Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart), who was a superstar school athlete. In present day, Calvin is an accountant and due to his past feels that he is underachieving. Meanwhile, Bob is incredibly muscular and is part of the CIA. They somehow end up working together to save a compromised U.S spy satellite system, whilst dealing with the overly suspicious CIA. The premise of the story sounds insane, but it works, and here’s why.
There is a big difference between entertaining and interestingly entertaining, and which one suits you most depends on your personality. Most of the films that Kevin Hart stars in are just entertainment; amusement and enjoyment. There is little else to the films, and it is just a collection of stars trying to have as much fun as possible using the budgets available to make it as action-packed as they can. I have at times got caught in debates with friends who state, “I go to the cinemas to be entertained and that is it,” which is fine because films do something different for each person and each person interprets them according to that difference. With Central Intelligence I found it to be interestingly entertaining.
By that, I mean, yes, it was funny, and it was all about having fun, and yes, both leading stars were clearly enjoying themselves. However, I also found it engaging. You find yourself immersed into the storyline whilst consistently laughing all the way through. At times I thought it may get silly (The Do Over anyone?) like these type of films normally do, but actually, it just stayed in the realm of being an acceptable narrative that kept you engaged until the very end. Technically, this film should not have worked, but I know why it did: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart actually tried to make a decent double act. You could tell they did not just show up to the set every day and pick up their pay cheques. They made a plausible attempt to make a worthy comedy where as an audience member you enjoyed it alongside them. The characters help involve the audience because you care about them right from the start, as you concern yourself with Bob – a man who has overcome insecurities about his image to become the person he is in this film. The subject of weight and mental insecurities is not something I expect to gain from this film and it provides an element of sympathy. I have not enjoyed Kevin Hart’s performances as an actor. This is mostly because on-screen he is the same person, and I want him to use his comedy to take on another character. In Central Intelligence he has toned down his persona and made a real effort to embody another person.
As for Dwayne Johnson, how can you not have respect for this man – from WWE to one of the richest movie stars in the world. That is a difficult journey to take but he has taken it on gracefully. It is not about him being hard and tough, but that he takes on a character that is the complete opposite to his reputation, a character that has his own insecure issues because of bullying, and he does it without reminding you that he used to be The Rock (well, nearly).
The jokes in the film are not offensive but they are just genuinely comical. For example, Bob appears to have interests that are immature and which are meant for children, which serve as irony as you would never expect Dwayne Johnson to place himself in that type of character – this gag is relied on to be funny all the way through, and it is. Naturally, Kevin Hart is a comedian, so his scenes are naturally comical. I was half expecting a scene which was improvised on the spot with no script. Recently this has been a problem for me because this concept has become popular, but obvious. If some of the scenes were improvised then I did not notice it.
The film does have its flaws, it is not a masterpiece and it certainly will not be counted as the best comedy film of 2016. But it is good. Near the end, you wonder why they are dragging it out, and there are certain plot points that they could have worked on to make it stronger. But overall you do not leave the cinema grumbling at its quality, and you leave understanding that you found it interesting and enjoyable. Hart and Johnson have both made a great double-act comedy. It is a shame that the trailers do not give audiences the impression that it is film worth going to see.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.