Central Intelligence


Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune



Kevin Hart and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are two household names who rather indirectly fell into acting - the first through comedy and the latter, wrestling. Christian Tesfaye, a Fortune film reviewer, had serious doubts entering the cinema as to whether either had the capability of making Central Intelligence a worthwhile watch. Both actors, however, provided more quality than he expected - Kevin Hart with his newly found measured approach and The Rock with the unleashing of his funny side. The film's director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, deserves some credit for this. Although it won't win many Oscars, Central Intelligence does warrant the time and money spent on a cinema ticket - 5 out of 10 stars.


Once upon a time, there was a little black man with a peculiar sense of humour. I think I first heard about him when I was an eleventh grader, in high school. Back then, we would watch anything just to let the time pass by, even stand-up comedies. This little black man I mentioned made a couple of popular ones, and made his way into my laptop. The first performance I saw wasn’t that funny and I don’t think it was even supposed to be. The little black man talks of common things in a very common way – the only difference being that he himself laughs as much as the audience.

Another stand-up comedy of his was considerably funnier though and the third, even more so. And it wasn’t that his performances got better and better. It was just that, the more people were used to him, the funnier he became. People expect him to act in a certain way, and perhaps because he rarely changes his approach, he delivers. If it isn’t obvious by now, that man is Kevin Hart, and for the last couple of years, not long after I became a film critic, he has entered into acting. And not just acting, but he is a bankable star that gets many projects thrust his way. Hart has been haunting me ever since. He makes around three movies each year, and Matti Cinema, for some reason, maybe because he isn’t artistic at all or perhaps just to annoy me, never misses a chance to screen any one of his flicks.

But now, the little black man has collaborated with the most unlikely of actors to give us a buddy action comedy. For Hart, this is unprecedented, he seldom does anything surprising. He banks on the mundane. He always co-stars, as if some studio head, or maybe his own manager, doesn’t believe the comedian can carry a movie by himself. This time, Hart appears besides The Rock – a present day staple of serious action movies.

Dwayne Johnson – The Rock’s Christian name – like Hart I am sure, never dreamed he would become an actor. The opportunity presented itself when he became famous for his wrestling career on WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment); Johnson kind of exploited his star power. Even though currently not as famous as Hart, Johnson gets a lot of starring roles too. Both usually make whatever movie they can get their hands on, but Johnson identifies more with action movies. But the co-stars’ major similarity lies in that both know exactly what kind of film a hilariously short stature and an incredibly large physique call for – Central Intelligence.

Johnson plays a rogue CIA operative called Bob Stone. He formerly used to have a different, weird name and was very fat in high school – the kind of student that is always the butt of the popular kids’ jokes. Hart plays Calvin Joyner, a present day accountant who believes he has failed at his life. He went to the same school as Stone, but where Stone was a dork, Joyner was the most popular kid. He was prom king and was even voted most likely to succeed – a big thing for any African-American student in a predominantly white school.

The two connect over Facebook 20 years later and decide to meet up. Joyner finds that Stone isn’t fat anymore. In fact, far from it; we all know what Johnson looks like. But Stone, it seems, is hiding a big secret and wants Joyner for his ‘accounting skills’. Soon the CIA is involved, and it is revealed to Joyner that Stone is very dangerous and maybe looking for a way to sell state secrets. Joyner has to choose between either betraying Stone to the authorities or helping him on a mission to get the culprit that framed him.

When I took a seat in the dark theatre to watch this movie, I did so with the utmost reservation. Johnson is a modest enough person, but almost everything he has ever been a part of is atrocious. Nonetheless, he is nothing compared to Hart, who doesn’t just choose such bad projects, he doesn’t even put any effort in to give a good performance. If there was one person that takes his accidental fame for granted, this is the guy. It usually takes a lot of determination, and a temporary lowering of one’s self-worth to finish any of his movies. But Central Intelligence surprised me.

Hart was much more reserved than I have ever seen him. He doesn’t retort to every single thing said on screen. He was subdued in that his character makes jokes only when the scene calls for it. This is a side of Hart that we have never seen before. He tries, tries, to appear weary instead of obnoxious, poignant instead of goofy and comedic instead of merely funny. The humour works most because Hart times himself and appears professional. I am of course not saying he deserves an Oscar, not even an Ethiopian Gumma award. But I believe, as an actor, he is growing to find his niche.

But where Hart was subdued, Johnson was boisterous. I have seldom seen an actor just let go and enjoy the ride. Bob Stone is a man child who obviously has very low IQ. At times he appears to be slow, while at others, tough and smart; probably a way for the filmmakers to show why he is a former top CIA operative. He is an idiot savant with unparalleled spy skills. So most of the funny gags go to Johnson, and he drifts through them comfortably. On Hart’s turf, a comedy movie, Johnson steals the show.

If I am being overtly positive that is only because I found the film so much better than I feared it would be. Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose famous movies are We’re the Millers and DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, deserves some credit for this. Yes, the film has a very convoluted plot, and the dialogue is barely tolerable, but he did help save a project from being overtaken by Hart’s less artistic sensibilities. Central Intelligence is the movie where Thurber showed Hart how to act, and Johnson, how to let go and be free.



By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Jul 26,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 847]


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