CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE is everything that the perfect bromance flick should be, starting with the improbable but undeniable chemistry between stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. Add a script that shows them off to best effect, with its wicked sense of the absurdity and suspense of the situations in which these two find themselves, and what we have here might just be our next great comedy team.
Hart is Calvin Joyner, most popular guy in his high school, president of the student council, star of the drama club, captain of the football team, voted most likely to succeed, and, of course, dating the prettiest girl in school, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet). Johnson’s character, on the other hand, was known as Fat Robbie, a sweet nerd with serious dance skills who was nonetheless subject to endless bullying and a crowning incident of shaming in the school’s gym that left him scarred for life. Twenty years later, Calvin is a forensic accountant living a humdrum life with Maggie that includes being passed over for promotions and wondering if he’s made the right professional choices in life. Into his life of quiet desperation drops Robbie, now known as Bob Stone. His name isn’t the only thing that’s changed. He’s gone from schlub to Adonis, and he’s never forgotten that Calvin was the only one to offer him any sympathy or help in the gym that long ago day.
Back in town for their high school reunion, Bob contacts an incredulous Calvin, and what begins as a night of shots and reminiscences ends with stolen satellite codes, high treason, and some very scary CIA agents chasing Bob for what may or may not be good reasons while being undecided about whether or not Calvin is just an innocent bystander.
There is a piquant playfulness to both the action and the comedy, with accidental pistol-whippings, weaponized printer toner, and a chase through Calvin’s office involving a mail cart that are all effortlessly hilarious as they are ingenious. Hart’s barely contained discombobulation, and Johnson’s eager penchant for inadvisable derring-do sets the mood for the rest of the film. Indeed, Johnson’s turn hero-Calvin’s high school greatness, done with guileless sincerity to Hart’s increasingly frazzled attempts to make sense of what is happening to him, including the way Fat Robbie can now take out a full complement of bar bullies, is the engine that drives this flick. He’s even funnier when he starts taking an active part in Bob’s mission to track down a shadowy villain named The Black Badger, trading quips, many about his diminutive stature, and discovering unplumbed depths of ingenuity, including keeping all of this from Maggie.
The humor is sly as well as broad, and both work in the hands of these actors who know when to pratfall, and know when to play it absolutely straight, and a director that understands timing as well as the actors do. A scene that finds them soul staring at one another (never mind why) is just as funny as the one that finds them shooting their way out of yet another tight situation with Calvin using an ever-polite Bob as his shield while mercilessly taunting the enemy. It’s not afraid to be serious, though, about bullying, but it makes its points effectively without once letting the film lose its pacing or its puckishness, while still allowing Johnson to stretch as an actor. Seriously, he’s got emotional resonance. Kudos, too, are due to Jason Bateman as the reason for the worst high-school reunion ever, Amy Smart as the icily efficient CIA agent tracking down Bob and Calvin, and Aaron Paul as Bob’s doomed partner.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE has its share of scatological humor, but for the most part it aims to be clever rather than low-brow, and in that, too, it is a rousing success. It’s that magical quintessence of characters that are funny, and that are more than just one-note punch-lines. I don’t’ thing I’ve ever called for this in a review. I want a sequel. I really, really do. But only if Rawson Marshall Thurber is back as the director and as co-writer along with deeply twisted mind of Ike Barinholtz.