Dwayne Johnson takes on the role of a funnyman. Is it a laughing matter?
By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
If the right players are matched up for a tall man/small man comedy, then the two halves can make a marvelous whole. Such is the case with the unorthodox teaming of a frenetic Kevin Hart running headlong into one substantial Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson.
Not only does this double play work … it elevates Central Intelligence from the standard buddy action comedy to a new height. (Um, not Kevin Hart’s 5’4″ but Dwayne Johnson’s 6’5″.) Like 1988’s Twins, with Arnold Schwarzenegger towering over Danny DeVito, there’s a comedic goldmine in the visual disparity alone.
And it’s that visual that mirrors the characters’ sensibilities. 20 years prior, Hart’s Calvin, aka “The Golden Jet,” was the high school’s Big Man On Campus: top athlete, Prom King, all-around rock star. But though he was voted Most Likely to Succeed … he didn’t. Flash forward two decades later, with his high school reunion coming up fast, Calvin’s a diminished middle-of the-road accountant who’s stuck in a gray cubicle. Even Calvin’s assistant leapfrogs over him to grab a lofty promotion. Yet Calvin’s short stature is minimal compared to his emotionally stunted mindset. He plans to avoid the reunion, since he knows it will be viscerally painful to look back.
Conversely, the high school’s chubby loser who’d been brutally tormented by class bullies has morphed from an uncommonly ugly duckling into a steroidal swan. Having changed his name from Robbie Weirdicht (pronounced “Weird Dick”) to Bob Stone, modern day Bob (Johnson) is a hard-bodied god of strength and muscle. His confidence is as towering as he appears. Or so it seems. While he’s come to town for the reunion, eager to prove all those high school bullies wrong, he, too, finds it painful to look back.
At Bob’s insistence, Calvin meets him at a local bar to catch up. And he can’t believe the dramatic transformation. Yet for all of Bob’s matchless physique, he’s a goofball. Wearing a girly unicorn T-shirt, jorts (jean shorts) and a fanny pack, he’s a blend of the brawn and the bashful, unable to hide his sheepish adulation of the Calvin he recalls from 20 years ago.
But maybe Bob’s in town for something other the reunion. Maybe he needs Calvin’s accounting skills for some covert project. Maybe he’s carrying a gun in that ridiculous fanny pack. Maybe, after Bob takes down four strangers in the bar without breaking a sweat, Calvin will believe him when he eventually confides that he’s a CIA operative. Calvin’s amazed, but it makes sense. “You’re like Jason Bourne in jorts.”
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers), the nonsensical plot quickly moves along, rife with double agents, CIA spooks (plus one stern honcho played by Amy Ryan), a confused wife and a multitude of screams emanating from Calvin, who can’t seem to convince Bob that he’s not particularly fond of whizzing bullets and exploding cars. Oh, and imminent death.
Other than the chase for some vague encryption codes (defined by Hitchcock as the “MacGuffin”), it’s the casting of Hart and Johnson that scrambles our expectations. Hart’s character is an innocent, a risk-averse everyman who keeps trying to extract himself from the passenger seat of this wild action ride. Hart doesn’t disappoint with his over-the-top physicality, comic reactions and spot-on timing. And, the appreciable difference is that here, he’s playing a comedic straight man.
Meanwhile, iconic action star Johnson free-falls into the role of the wacko catalyst, driving the comedy as well as the action. He’s surprisingly adept at conveying the three-ring circus of Bob’s psyche. He can reveal his sharp, über-resourceful CIA agent. Or his gleeful, death-defying adventurist. Or his shy, screwy adolescent. No matter his demeanor, Bob invariably reflects his dewy-eyed, man-crush on Calvin. (Because when it mattered the most, Calvin was the one and only person who came to Bob’s rescue.)
The filmmakers exploit the actors’ 13″ height disparity to great effect. In a first act office scene, Calvin finds himself stuffed into the mail cart as Bob propels him through a deadly snarl of trigger-happy CIA agents. Calvin comes off as a wailing baby in a stroller, dependent on his large nanny to navigate him across eight lanes of traffic post-haste. Later, when Bob pretends to be a couples’ therapist, he puts a resigned Calvin on his lap, gently cradling him in his Bluto-esque arms. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Calvin sucking his thumb.
The supporting players contribute additional sparks of fun, including Amy Ryan, Jason Bateman and an uncredited Melissa McCarthy. Unfortunately, Calvin’s Prom Queen wife (Danielle Nicolet) is stuck in a flat role as the ever-supportive spouse.
For the majority of graduates over the tender age of 18, high school memories still resonate in the rearview mirror … whether they lean toward the terrible, the uncomfortable or, for a few fabricators, appear golden beyond belief. Amid all the movie’s fun, Central Intelligence nods to the fact that we don’t deserve to be defined by past memories that haunt and hurt; we deserve to create new ones that define who we are today.
Rating on a scale of 5 Oddball Couples: 3.5
Release date: June 17, 2016
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay by: Ike Barinholtz & David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber
Story by: Ike Barinholtz & David Stassen
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul
Running Time: 114 minutes
Here’s the trailer for Central Intelligence: