Central Intelligence (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Central Intelligence (2016)

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Calvin was on top of the world in high school, doing backflips, winning elections, and thinking of a bright future with his girlfriend.  Now he's got the stable job, the car, and the beautiful wife, but he's feeling empty.  With his high school reunion approaching, Calvin receives a message from Bob - who Calvin showed kindness to in high school - and their growing friendship intertwines with an international crisis with Bob at the center.  Rawson Marshall Thurber directs Central Intelligence, with the screenplay written by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, and David Stassen, and stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.

In my freshman year of college I got a call from someone I had not given a thought to in years.  The guy wanted to talk to me because he felt bad about how he had teased me in high school, and I spent most of the conversation trying to figure out some polite way out of it as I flat-out did not remember this or have many great memories of the friendship.  When I told another friend of mine about the call he said, "You've got to treasure those people."  Now I'm not friends with either of them and by all accounts our lives are moving on just fine.

Central Intelligence plays like the hilarious nightmare version of the conversation I had and the bizarre communal experience that is high school.  The raging hormones and tight quarters of the classrooms caused some memories to bond with greater strength than others.  If someone as overbearingly positive as Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), who carries his own baggage, barged back into my life I'd be about as excited as Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) - screaming, "I'm not in," to a man way too invested in my livelihood to listen.  I value my privacy way too much to share my space with anyone but my wife, let alone a random person I showed kindness to in high school.

Some folks are able to move on from humiliation, some should never have to, and others have it play back out in nightmare collage when confronted with reminders of the past.

Rawson Marshall Thurber, who cowrote the script with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, does an excellent job mining universal experience from broad comedy.  Thurber got his start with Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, which had surprising longevity because of how Thurber tapped into the insecurity of going to the gym and being surrounded by beautiful people.  Central Intelligence has the same sweetness running through it that mostly keeps the story of the once-fat now-ripped Bob from being a mean punchline.  This is the kind of movie that can get away with playing Blur's "Song #2" during a getaway ("Song #2" already making fun of over-the-top hooky rock) because Bob is fist pumping the air and grinning like the devil as Calvin screams during their multi-story fall from an office building.

Though Central Intelligence taps into a mighty groove once Bob drags Calvin into an international spy operation it begins on a sour note.  Our first glimpse of young Bob, then known as Robbie Wierdicht, is when Johnson's face is superimposed over a large younger body (supplied by Sione Kelepi) who is dancing to En Vogue in the school shower.  The way Thurber's camera keeps shifting to the ripples in young Bob's body and his bare ass comes across as Central Intelligence's one unnecessarily mean note.  Bob's eventual humiliation in front of the whole school is sympathetic, but by keeping the focus on Bob's body before getting to that point it signals that we're to laugh along with the bullies instead of endorse Bob's enthusiasm.

Thankfully the rest of Central Intelligence is 100% Team Bob.  A lot of this has to do with Johnson's performance with a script that asks him to take his natural charisma up to near-grating levels.  It's a testament to Johnson that he doesn't actually become grating to watch but is so optimistic that we understand why people in the universe of Central Intelligence would be annoyed with him.  Bob's obsession with unicorns, the Twilight books, and pop hits from the '90s are all endearing because Johnson doesn't step aside to wink about any of these things.

Hart is a performer who I've run hot and cold on but he's a perfect foil for Johnson.  They're both sincere and with Johnson it's his blinding optimism while Hart toils with existential nervousness about living a decent life.  I left a comfy insurance job after 10 years and Hart's work as Calvin feels almost uncomfortably familiar.  Hart yells a lot but not as a first reaction, he always takes the time to compose himself for a double or triple-take as everyone around him accepts the insanity he's trying to live through.   I also love that Central Intelligence takes the time to give a healthy glimpse into Calvin's married life with high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet.)  She hopes for the same kind of marital happiness with Calvin that Bob wants with Calvin's friendship.  Her super satisfied smile in an impromptu therapy session with Calvin earned a content laugh from me and shows comedy can come from happiness as much as it does misery.

Danielle Nicolet has a great role as Maggie and shows the kind of non-cartoony confidence Calvin could have to make his life better.

Central Intelligence's secret weapon is its whip-smart editing courtesy of Mike Sale and Brian Olds.  In this post-Apatow time with hangout comedies loosening the slack on run-times it's nice to see Sale and Olds trim Central Intelligence's jokes down perfectly.  An early barrage of Facebook messages from Bob segues excellently into the discomfort of maintaining an office persona to fit a mold needed to keep a job.  Calvin's cowardice makes for excellent background gags as Bob fights a henchman and Calvin screams away on a motorcycle.

And all of this is mired in the truth that barely a damn one of us knew who or what we were going to be in high school.  Calvin was voted most likely to succeed and, for the most part, he did - it's just not the kind of success most folks like to brag about.  Taking the leap away from what our friendships were, and our goals looked like, takes a lot of courage.  If you're lucky, loved ones may change along with you and come for the ride.

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Central Intelligence (2016)

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Screenplay written by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, and David Stassen.
Starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.

Posted by Andrew

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