It’s unlikely Dwayne Johnson will win an Oscar anytime soon, but don’t look now, people– he’s become a legitimate actor. It may not have been foreseeable back in 2001 when he debuted in The Mummy Returns, but since then Johnson has been steadily upping his game. His best performance hands-down was in 2013’s action-drama Snitch, but his funniest work comes in this week’s Central Intelligence alongside Kevin Hart. And more often than not, Johnson actually outshines Hart. Go figure.
In a 1996-set prologue, we first meet Johnson (perfectly morphed via a fat suit and braces) as Robbie Weirdicht, Central High School’s resident target of bullying, while popular kid Calvin Joyner (Hart) is the only person who sticks up for him. Twenty years later, on the eve of their reunion, Robbie (now going calling himself Bob Stone, with a physique to match) finds lowly accountant Calvin on Facebook, bringing the pair together for the first time since graduation.
What starts as a hilarious meet-n-greet quickly escalates, as big and burly Bob (an aficionado of unicorns, Sixteen Candles, and fanny packs) latches onto Calvin like a lost kitten. But the movie really gets going when CIA agent Pam Harris (Amy Ryan) shows up at Calvin’s door and informs him that Bob is actually a rogue agent who killed his partner, stole top secret satellite codes, and is now aiming to destroy the world.
Though the plot may not bring anything new to the table (nebbish guy reluctantly enters world of guns and bad guys, loveable hero may or may not be nefarious), it doesn’t detract at all from the highly funny script, inspired direction, and the memorable performances of its cast.
Hart isn’t known for his especially subtle approach to comedy, but he wisely toned things down somewhat here, (smartly) realizing that he doesn’t need to be a manic tasmanian devil all the time. It’s Johnson, though, who completely steals the show. He’s given us glimpses of his comedy chops in the past (The Other Guys comes to mind), but Central Intelligence marks the first time he’s been given the chance to show off his funny bone. Who knew The Rock had such spot-on comic timing?
Behind the scenes, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers) continues his streak of putting together wildly (and surprisingly) entertaining movies from concepts that frankly should have been DOA. There are more than a handful of clever moments in Central Intelligence that may have, in other director’s hands, fallen flat. Here, though, they only add to the comedy–none more than the handful of times Stone hilariously appears out of nowhere to be by Calvin’s side, making the poor guy’s head spin. Thurber also makes the most of a couple of high-profile cameos, dropping the perfect people strategically throughout the film.
Sure the script by Thurber (along with The Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen) occasionally relies on cliche a bit more than it needs to, but when a film’s cast and director step up as much as they do in Central Intelligence, any shortfalls are easily forgiven and forgotten. It’s even more fun than unicorns and fanny packs.