Central Intelligence

still from the film

Central Intelligence belies its own title: the Kevin-Hart-Dwayne-Johnson vehicle is dumb, silly and nonsensical. It’s the kind of minor comedy doing so little to play around or deconstruct the tired conventions of the buddy action genre that it’s guaranteed to become quickly forgotten.

All the context we need for the narrative is provided with an opening flashback, as seen in the trailers. In 1996, overweight and sensitive nerd Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) is bullied while showering in the boys’ change room. His tormentors fling his naked body — CGI flab and all — into an assembly for all the school to mock. The only person who doesn’t laugh is popular kid Calvin Joyner (Hart).

It’s hard to tell what’s more embarrassing in this scene: the fictional public humiliation or the film’s lazy use of CGI to create an obese version of the Rock. Coincidentally, The Nutty Professor came out in 1996, and it’s worth noting that despite being 20 years older, Eddie Murphy’s fat suit looks far more convincing than Johnson’s CGI flab.

In the present-day, Calvin is a mild-mannered accountant who doesn’t want to attend his high school reunion because he feels like he never lived up to the “most likely to succeed” title given to him in high school. Robbie is “Bob Stone,” a CIA agent who turned 200 pounds of fat into 200 pounds of muscle.

He ropes a hilariously reluctant Calvin into an undercover spy adventure with extremely basic, but nonetheless vague plot points, which involve the unlikely duo hunting down an unknown baddie named The Big Badger before he or she sells nuke codes to America’s enemies. Bob and Calvin are simultaneously hunted by a CIA team led by Bob’s boss Harris (an underused Amy Ryan), who believes Bob is secretly the Big Badger.

It’s best to overlook the logistical details of the movie and enjoy the silly antics between Hart and Johnson. Yet a good portion of the film’s humour is reliant on those logistical details; coming from action sequences and getaways — like a shoot-out set in an office building in which a banana, refrigerator door, and mail cart become unlikely weapons before the duo escapes via breaking glass windows and miraculously surviving a 20-story jump, or several impossible getaways in which Johnson disappears and reappears as quickly as a magician.

Had these stunts had been pushed to the extreme, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (of We’re the Millers and Dodgeball fame) could have at least parodied the implausible conventions of spy films (much like Paul Feig’s Spy). But this is a simple movie full of easy laughs and audience-pandering tropes, like on-the-nose surprise cameos and closing-credits bloopers. Its best lines consist of Calvin calling Bob “Jason Bourne in jorts” and Bob calling a slick, suit-wearing Calvin a “black Will Smith.”

However, there is an exceptionally uproarious scene involving therapy role-play and a lot of face-slapping; such moments approach a bizarre comedic rabbit hole that finally feels subversive — if only the writers and director were brave enough to enter it.

Central Intelligence is the kind of movie that pats itself on the back for referencing Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, while giving its two protagonists the most simplistic and predictable of hero journeys imaginable, completely without any subtext.

It’s the kind of film that fleshes out a nerd-to-jock transformation by contrasting Bob’s muscular definition with his earnest, nerdy, sweet side, emphasizing superficial signifiers like a penchant for unicorns (“I’m really into ‘corns”), John Hughes movies and fanny packs.

Such facile problems are often swept aside by critics because of the genre — it’s a buddy action film, not a documentary — and there’s no problem watching or enjoying Central Intelligence. Just don’t complain if you lose a few IQ points in the process.