Over the years, we’ve seen Kevin Hart paired up with a variety of different actors on the big screen, including Josh Gad in The Wedding Ringer, Will Ferrell in Get Hard, and Ice Cube in those #$*&ing Ride Along movies. Yet, Hart has never quite found the right screen partner, or the right screenplay for that matter. In Central Intelligence, Hart is not only given funny material to work with, but also shares wonderful comedic chemistry with Dwayne Johnson. It might sound like an odd combination, but Hart and Johnson are an extremely endearing duo. While not on par with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, they do save Central Intelligence from being just another buddy movie.
Through some truly grotesque CGI effects, Johnson is transformed into an overweight loser named Fat Robbie. The only person who’s nice to Robbie in high school is Hart’s Calvin Joyner, the coolest kid in school who seems destined for greatness. Two decades later, Calvin has a steady job as an accountant and a lovely wife (Danielle Nicolet), but is still disappointed with his boring life. Out of the blue, Calvin is contacted by Robbie, who has changed his name Bob Stone. Upon meeting up with his former schoolmate, Calvin is shocked to learn that he now looks like an action star with bulging biceps. His remarkable weight loss is only half of the surprise, as it turns out Bob is a rogue CIA agent wanted for murder. Although Calvin attempts to distance himself, Bob pulls his pal into an espionage plot full of shootouts and chases.
Part of what makes Central Intelligence so much fun is that Johnson and Hart are essentially playing against type. Most of the time, we see Johnson as the straight man and Hart as the eccentric comedic relief. Here, however, Johnson’s character is the totally unhinged wild card while Hart is the more levelheaded voice of reason. Johnson in particular has never been more charismatic or unpredictable, stealing every scene he’s in. Despite being seemingly out of his mind, Bob also emerges as an empathetic, vulnerable human being suffering from the effects of bullying.
Calvin is also an identifiable lead. We really feel for this poor guy as he haplessly winds up at the center of a dangerous mission, at times calling to mind Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Calvin is rarely certain if he should trust Bob or hand him over to the authorities. Likewise, the screenplay by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber constantly keeps the audience guessing, delivering several satisfying payoffs along the way. While the final destination is pretty obvious in retrospect, the film will catch you off guard more than once.
In addition to our leads, Amy Ryan is a delight as a CIA agent hell-bent on tracking Bob down. There are also several memorable cameos that score big laughs across the board. Central Intelligence belongs to Johnson and Hart, though. They’re the reason to see this movie, ultimately bringing out the best in each other. Walking out of the theater, you can’t help but hope that the two will be reunited on screen again soon. Fortunately, both of them have already signed on for the Jumanji reboot next year. It looks like this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.