‘Central Intelligence’ Review | The Do-Over, Done Right

Central Intelligence isn’t just a buddy comedy, it’s a lifeboat for actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Too often these charming actors are the best part of otherwise terrible movies, trying to save punishing screenplays and unfunny jokes with the sheer force of their personalities. Now they finally have their own movie, and while the plot of Central Intelligence may not be anything new, it plays great because Johnson and Hart are great together.

The film stars Kevin Hart as Calvin Joyner, a high school MVP, and Dwayne Johnson as Bob Stone, a victim of high school bullying. Twenty years later, Calvin has become a miserable office drone but Bob has become an exciting CIA agent, albeit one whose insecurities have prevented him from having a normal social life. After a particularly traumatizing incident in high school, and despite his impressive physical appearance, Bob hasn’t even let anyone see him naked in decades. 

Warner Bros.

Then, of course, Calvin and Bob become embroiled in a vast conspiracy, never knowing who to trust, fighting their way out of one unlikely action sequence after another. That plot is almost distractingly similar to The Do-Over, Adam Sandler’s most recent Netflix comedy. Here again we see two high school acquaintances coming together at a reunion, and here again we see a person with a humdrum life getting dragged into adventure against their will, and here again we see everybody becoming a better person because of it.

But the differences matter. Central Intelligence doesn’t have ugly attitudes towards women or homosexuals, whereas The Do-Over certainly does. The plot makes more sense in Central Intelligence as well. The pacing is infinitely more brisk, and the characters play off of each other like a proper comic duo. It’s not just about an unhappy schlub learning how to enjoy himself from a kick-ass representation of his stifled adolescent id. Central Intelligence is about two grown adults who learn to live with their baggage by engaging in situations that they both find uncomfortable, and the actors are talented enough to make their discomfort amusing. 

Over the course of the film, Calvin gets the exciting life he asked for, discovers that he doesn’t like it as much as he thought he would, but he eventually uses these life or death situations to reassess his priorities. Meanwhile, Bob finally gets the friendship he always wanted, only to discover that his overwhelming anxieties are still getting in the way of his own personal growth. He may be played by The Rock, he may be a badass government agent, but when confronted with his childhood bully Bob reverts to a frightened child again. 

Warner Bros.

It’s a tricky scene, acted impressively by Johnson, who always plays well against type but whose “type” adds potency to the anti-bullying message in Central Intelligence. If one of the most confident, likable, physically powerful men in the world can be the victim of cruelty – and if he can convincingly portray the lifelong effects of those personal attacks – then perhaps those who haven’t lived through bullying themselves will be forced to consider the sweeping effects.

And it’s funny, of course. Obviously Dwayne Johnson is enormous and Kevin Hart isn’t very tall, and a lesser film could have built about two hours of material on that difference alone. Instead, Central Intelligence develops its gags based around the comedians individual strengths as performers. Hart is given the opportunity to freak out, but for legitimate reasons instead of mere comic relief. And Johnson is consistently asked to play an action hero whose personality is amiable, even vulnerable, when he isn’t actually shooting somebody. The dialogue riffs on the complex relationship between how these characters appear to the outside world,and how they feel inside, which gives Hart and Johnson a lot more to work with than the usual dumb buddy movie gags (although there are quite a few of those as well).

Warner Bros.

Central Intelligence is a genre film, one that adheres to a formula, but it demonstrates a smart understanding of why that formula works in the first place. The actors are incredibly fun together, and are allowed to play actual characters instead of stock archetypes. The action movie trappings are entertaining, and filmed well enough that Central Intelligence doesn’t feel like it’s making fun of adventure films so much as it’s taking place in a tiny corner of the expansive summer blockbuster universe.

In the years to come, Central Intelligence probably won’t be hailed as a comedy classic. But I suspect it will be fondly remembered as a time when two very good comedians met their match and teamed up for a well made, albeit familiar flick that played to their strengths and had a positive message. Well done, everybody. 


William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.

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