Movie News & Reviews

In ‘Central Intelligence,’ The Rock is on a roll: 2.5 stars

A burly CIA agent (Dwayne Johnson) does everything he can to help his old high school chum (Kevin Hart).
A burly CIA agent (Dwayne Johnson) does everything he can to help his old high school chum (Kevin Hart). Warner Bros.

Fat Robbie was a flabby nerd who transformed himself into a lethal hardbody, someone so tough and buff that he’s played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

How did he do it?

“Simple,” Robbie explains. “I worked out six hours a day, every day, for 20 years.”

Yet the physical transformation hasn’t removed his geekiness, which is why his Facebook page reveals his three favorite things are guns, cinnamon pancakes and unicorns. (“Big into ’corns,” he proclaims.) He relates more to Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles” than Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.”

In nearly every scene of “Central Intelligence,” Johnson finds a fresh, unanticipated spin on this bizarre individual.

Kevin Hart also co-stars as Kevin Hart.

Therein lies the imbalance in “Central Intelligence,” an amusing action-comedy with a few terrific characters and effective twists. It’s certainly Johnson’s all-time funniest performance. But it offers the same old Hart, who mugs throughout the movie, even when he’s theoretically playing the straight man.

Hard to believe Hart once seemed novel enough to enliven the lazy “Ride Along” and “The Wedding Ringer.” Now he has made a Robbie-esque transformation of reverse proportions, becoming an unwelcome addition to most movies. So many moments in this buddy pic could be improved if only the animated motormouth learned to downshift.

Hart’s rung in hell would be getting trapped inside a silent movie.

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He portrays Calvin, who earned the nickname the Golden Jet as a teen for his athleticism, humor and likability. But as he faces the 20-year reunion of his Central High class in Maryland, he’s a middling accountant stuck in an unrewarding job.

“I don’t want to be the guy who peaked in high school,” he tells his wife, the former prom queen (Danielle Nicolet).

Apparently, he was the only person back then who treated Robbie right. So it makes sense that when the guy shows up unannounced, sporting a new physique and alias, he wants to reconnect.

But Robbie also recruits the accountant to help with a case that involves some number-crunching. Calvin soon wonders whether Robbie might be using him, questioning whether his old classmate is the bad guy at the center of an international espionage conspiracy.

Along with Johnson’s loopy take, the movie (written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and director Rawson Marshall Thurber) does a fine job of keeping the mystery going. Is Robbie a good guy? Bad guy? Something else entirely?

Plenty of slapstick and over-the-top action sequences accompany the mystery — or at least make it louder. There are definitely more guns on display than cinnamon pancakes or unicorns.

Also joining the fracas is a dogged CIA superior (Amy Ryan) and Robbie’s previous partner (Aaron Paul in flashback). But the most memorable supporting role goes to an uncredited Jason Bateman as the bully from Robbie’s past who helped orchestrate a cruel prank incorporating nudity and a pep rally.

How the film introduces their reunion borders on comedic genius, with expectations shattered again and again. But their final confrontation becomes the deal breaker that prevents “Central Intelligence” from being everything it could be.

Such a missed opportunity. A slick two-hour setup for a feeble one-second punch line.

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

‘Central Intelligence’

  1/2

Rated PG-13. Time: 1:47.

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