centralintelligencecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence, and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Amazon link

Teamed with Ice Cube, Kevin Hart was funnily clueless in Ride Along, and he’s along for the ride again in another buddy cop variation—this time with Dwayne Johnson. Essentially, Central Intelligence is another Knight and Day, with Johnson replacing Tom Cruise as the slightly crazy spy-gone-rogue whose own agency is out to get him, and Hart taking the place of Cameron Diaz as the swept-along civilian. The one new wrinkle is that instead of a chance meeting throwing the two together, the agent (Johnson) seeks out the only person who showed him any kindness in high school.

The drama and poignancy in this lightweight comedy comes from the characters’ reversal of fortunes and high-school flashbacks. Now Calvin Joyner centralintelligencescreen1(Hart) is an ordinary schmuck who’s not getting the promotion he’s worked hard for and who feels like a failure compared to the promise he flashed as a teenager. In high school he had everything. A multiple-sport star athlete who was dating the prettiest girl in school (Danielle Nicolet as Maggie), “The Golden Jet,” as he was called—sorry for the appropriation, NHL legend Bobby Hull—even had a signature backflip move that drove the crowd nuts. Meanwhile, overweight and nerdy Robbie Weirdict was constantly made fun of and ultimately humiliated when a bunch of guys tossed him butt naked onto the center of the basketball court with a packed house laughing at him.

Kids who have been bullied or are sensitive to bullying will find such sad moments made even sadder seeing how the now-buff agent who changed his name to Bob Stone—a name that seems a nod to novelist Robert Stone, author of such politically charged action adventures as Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise—thinks of Calvin as his best friend. And of course Calvin doesn’t feel the same way. In this respect, the broad comedy and comic violence is balanced with an underlying tone that’s often sad but, typical of Hollywood, blossoms into something more positive by film’s end.

centralintelligencescreen2It really doesn’t matter why a “rogue” agent is being hunted, does it? I mean, it’s always a save-the-world situation to some degree, and in this case its satellite codes that simply can’t fall into the wrong hands—especially if those hands belong to the Black Badger, a dangerous international criminal who clearly dabbles in terrorism. The minor characters really are minor in Central Intelligence, though Amy Ryan (Birdman, Gone Baby Gone) is superb as C.I.A. honcho Pam Harris, the agent leading the effort to capture Bob Stone and recover the codes, and Jason Bateman clearly enjoys his small role as Trevor, the guy who masterminded the worst night of Bob’s life —a point humorously made when Bob revives after reliving that high-school nightmare and feels relieved that he’s being tortured instead.

Hart and Johnson actually pair up nicely, and Central Intelligence is a fun action-comedy largely because of their antics and the chemistry that they manage. Will there be a sequel? Of course—especially when you consider that the pair is already filming Jumanji, in which Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone, Hart plays Moose Finbar, and Jack Black is Professor Shelly Oberon. That’s the thing about formulaic films: if anything in them clicks, as Hart and Johnson do, the formula actually works, no matter how familiar it all seems.

This Blu-ray release comes with both the theatrical version and a 116-minute unrated version that pushes the film closer to “R” territory.

Language: One “f-word” and multiple other swearwords, including “shit”
Sex: No sex, but a long butt-view of the Rock’s rotund high-school character is shown in the shower and kids make genitalia jokes about Robbie’s last name
Violence: Besides the torture scene (which turns out okay and is partly played for laughs) there are multiple shootings, fistfights, and explosions, with some blood shown
Adult situations: Nothing more than what I’ve already talked about
Takeaway: Since Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines starred in what’s probably the first buddy cop action-comedy (Running Scared, 1986), the genre has really taken off. Now it’s just a matter of pairings, and Johnson and Hart go well together.