Friday, June 17, 2016
“Central Intelligence” – Is it?
Judging by the audience’s reaction to the film, we were watching a comedy classic unfold before our eyes. Listening to comments after the movie, I realized that I’m probably going to be in the minority on this movie – people who did not think it was a particularly good or funny movie. And that’s okay because sometimes movies, no matter how good or bad, can sometimes just rub a person the wrong way. In other words, this movie chaffed the hell out of me. Surprisingly, it had very little to do with Kevin Hart, though he did spend a fair amount of the movie screaming.
I may have liked the movie better had it not started off the way it did. Flashback to 1996 where Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart) is giving a speech at a senior pep rally. You read that right and to make it goofier, he’s also a track star, football star, drama star, valedictorian, and other accolades. Meanwhile, Robbie Weirdick (Johnson in a CGI fat suit and, yes, that’s his character’s actual name at first – he changes it to Bob Stone after that) is showering in the locker room when five kids decide to execute their senior prank – by throwing Robbie into the middle of the gym floor during the pep rally, still naked and wet. As hilarious as assault and a sex crime sounds, it’s made worse by the reaction that follows. The pranksters don’t run away after their toss, the entire senior class is laughing uproariously, and the principal just stands there, not reacting at all. Calvin is the only person horrified at what’s happening and quickly runs over to Robbie and gives him his letter jacket to cover up. Robbie runs away and the principal turns to Calvin and simply says “no coming back from that one.” Har, har, har – fuck you. I was a junior in high school in 1996 and had this happened, I can guarantee that you would have been able to hear a mouse fart in the gym from the dead silence that would have ensued, the pranksters would have been arrested and expelled from school, and more than one person would have gone to the victim’s aid. Considering the entire point of this scene was to set up Robbie worshipping Calvin for the next twenty years (and establish an anti-bullying theme), there are a hundred different things they could have done to achieve the same goal without stooping to something so unfunny.
That set the tone for me for the rest of the movie. Back to the present time, Calvin is an accountant disappointed in the way his life turned out, even though he's married to an extremely hot woman (Danielle Nicolet) and makes plenty of money. One day at work, he gets a Facebook friend request from Bob Stone and agrees to meet Bob for drinks. Bob is now actual “The Rock” – CGI not required for the muscles. They catch up, Bob beats up some dudes for being rude to Calvin and him, then convinces Calvin to use his “international forensic accounting skills” (I wish I was making that up) to hack into a website and decrypt an auction site for Bob. You see, the real plot of this movie is that Bob is a CIA agent trying to find out who stole all of the encryption keys to the United States’ spy satellites. Plus, the CIA thinks he killed his former partner, Phil (Aaron Paul), so he’s a rogue agent being pursued by a team led by Agent Harris (Amy Ryan). That’s the movie and it’s not nearly as smart as its title thinks it is.
To be fair, I was laughing at certain points of the movie because it does have some humor that tickled me. Most of that comes from Johnson, who is definitely getting better as his filmography grows, and there is some slap-sticky humor that hits its mark. The problem is that Johnson’s character sucks. While having drinks with Calvin, he essentially explains that he completely changed his life after the senior prank. Except, Bob still behaves like a 14-year old dork except when he’s fighting. He’s constantly referring to Calvin as The Jet, wears a fanny pack that holds one single flash grenade, wears unicorn shirts, and can’t stop talking about wanting to be Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. I spent most of the movie waiting for him to snap into the tough guy he was supposed to have become, but it never happens. Why not just have him revert back when they confront one of the bullies from high school or snap out of dork mode once he reveals that he is an agent? The tone of the character completely ruined the movie for me, but, again, much of the audience either liked it or didn’t care.
My other issue with the comedy is with some of the racial jokes. I find the humor, irony, and point in what Kevin Hart (and comics like Chris Rock) discuss in their routines, but that kind of joke in this kind of movie loses its punch when the punchline is just “because I’m black,” especially because race isn’t one of the themes of this film. This happens several times throughout the movie – Bob will say something like “you want to wear a fanny pack too?” and Calvin will respond with “no, I’m black.” How is that funny? The joke is that a giant man like Dwayne Johnson is wearing a fanny pack and likes Sixteen Candles (though this would have worked far better if he was playing a tough guy instead of acting like a complete nerd), not that a black man is wearing a fanny pack.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it never decides what it’s trying to do. It should have been a buddy-cop, action movie with comedic relief, but comes off like a comedy with action relief. Muddying the water is the anti-bullying social message that is so poorly executed, Michelle Obama will probably punch them for it. The three writers handle the message with all the care of a toddler wielding hammers in a glass store. In its entirety: high school bullies commit serious crime and principal does nothing, newly reformed bullying victim beats the crap out of men in bar for being rude over a chair, original high school bully bullies newly reformed victim again (when they go to him for help), victim punches original high school bully in the face at high school reunion. So, the message is fight bullies with violence and bullying? I guess that kind of laziness makes sense, considering the “because I’m black” jokes.
As I reread everything I just wrote, it occurs to me that that was a pretty negative review. When I left the theater and heard all of the positive responses, I thought maybe I was missing something and thinking on the movie for a couple of days would help me see what they saw. Nope. As it turns out, my biggest problem was that the tone of the film was all wrong for me and dampened down a lot of the entertainment value of the comedy and action. But, if I learned anything from the film it’s that I can make it through a Kevin Hart movie without wanting to scream back at him.
Rating: I’d ask for nine dollars back, but maybe the movie will rub you the right way.