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In “Central Intelligence,” there’s a kitchen brawl between a man with a butcher knife and another wielding a banana. The man with the banana comes out on top. I adore situations like this, where the film appears to be saying, “This is the kind of movie I enjoy—the kind where a banana can be used to kill a man. Enjoy.” You, too, do.
The film is a buddy-action comedy in the spirit of “The In-Laws” and “Midnight Run,” with a dash of 1930s slapstick thrown in for good measure. Calvin Joyner, played by Kevin Hart, is a deadpan worrywart who was chosen “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school. He has a wonderful job and a lovely wife, yet he still considers himself a failure.
Dwayne Johnson plays Robert Weirdicht, aka Bob Stone, a bullied obese boy who grew up to become a muscular CIA operative but still wears a fanny pack and can’t stop talking about “Sixteen Candles.” Bob is six-foot-four and built like an action figure, which comes in useful when he has to fight a nunchaku-wielding assassin on a motorcycle or pirouette across a war zone flinging miniature explosives from his fanny pack like Bugs Bunny as Brünnhilde strewing flower petals in her wake. Also, you must try to play this Which Central Intelligence Character Are You quiz.
Which Central Intelligence Character Are You?
On the eve of their 20th high school reunion, Bob claims he just wants to hang out with Calvin, the only man in high school who was ever good to him. He’s a rogue spy accused of murdering his partner and treason, and he needs Calvin’s accounting skills to foil a terrorist plot and clear his name. His admiration for Calvin, on the other hand, is genuine. He adores Calvin in the same way that small children adore superheroes. He is revered. I adore him.
He informs Calvin that he requires his assistance and inquires whether he is out or in. Calvin claims he won’t be there. Bob says he’s in, and that he’s always been in. Calvin is curious as to why Bob asked him if he was in or out if he was usually in. Bob claims he did so because he wanted to experience the pride and excitement of hearing Calvin declare he’s in. “I’m not interested,” Calvin says. “I’m not in,” he repeats repeatedly throughout the film. He screams it as Bob pushes him in a mail cart through a hail of bullets, imploring him to relax and that everything will be alright. This is their connection.
The best part of this film is that you believe in the connection. In the style of Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, Hart and Johnson are a famous comic duo. And they certainly have the silhouettes for it: when the two stand side by side, the genie and the guy who summoned him to have such a large height difference that they become iconic: the genie and the man who summoned him.
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However, the film takes them seriously as characters with crushed hopes and unrealized aspirations, men who feel deeply even if they don’t express it. They squabble, they yell at each other, and they get caught up in tangential debates about things that have nothing to do with the job.
Hart is in the middle of the game. The character played by Matthew Broderick: an emotionally constipated Everyman who sounds like he’s trying to be polite even when he’s yelling about some wacky scheme that Bob has dragged him into. When a burly CIA agent hands him an iPad with photos meant to shock and horrify him, he stares at it for just the appropriate amount of time before responding, “That’s PornHub.”
Calvin’s id is Bob, who lies to him and manipulates him to get him into dangerous situations, but he’s also his conscience, pressing him to be the shining example of bravery and generosity that Bob has always known him to be. Johnson, who has evolved into a bold comic actor as well as a superb action star, gives his greatest performance yet as Bob. Calvin refers to Bob as “Jason Bourne in jorts,” but despite the fact that he can kill a man with anything, including a banana, and has a mysteriously chilly (and chill) quality that makes Calvin wonder if those horrible stories about him are true, he’s a sweetie-pie—a Great Dane puppy bounding through the movie. Nobody in Hollywood has Johnson’s air of decency—he could have played Superman—and it’s cleverly employed here to allow us to like and even root for a man who is as innocently selfish as a toddler, a one-man wrecking crew demanding Calvin’s undivided attention. Bob laments, “I’ll never be like Molly Ringwald.” He truly believes it. And it’s tearing him apart on the inside.