'Central Intelligence' Review: Dwayne Johnson & Kevin Hart Have Irresistible Chemistry

Take one of the biggest movie stars in the world and team him up with one of the smallest, and it sounds like a gimmick in the making. On paper, just the sight of Dwayne Johnson standing alongside Kevin Hart will inciteĀ a smile. But do the two have what it takes to lead an action comedy that is funny, exciting and overall entertaining?

Thankfully, in Central Intelligence, fromĀ We're the Millers director Rawson Thurber Marshall, the answer is mostly yes. However, this may only be because Johnson and Hart are such an irresistible duo that they make you forget that the action and plot surrounding them is hollow, dull and merely acts as an excuse for these two to engage with each other for laughs.

Continue reading our Central Intelligence review after the jump.

We meet Robbie Weirdict (Dwayne Johnson) in the shower of Central High School as a fat, flamboyant kid singing En Vogue's signature tune "My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)." It's almost unsettling how seamlessly Johnson's usually chiseled face has been applied through the magic of visual effects to someone else's corpulent body, but it allows us to see that even when we meet him 20 years later as a chiseled, action hero-looking agent of the CIA, he still has the same upbeat personality and awkwardness, complete with a love of unicorns and a desperation for friendship.

Meanwhile, Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the school's big man on campus, receiving a prestigious high school award to go along with being prom king, homecoming king and the star athlete. But he's not the usual bullying jock. Instead, he's the only one who helps Robbie avoid further embarrassment when a group of kids throw him into the middle of the gymnasium floor naked for everyone to laugh at. Despite this kindness, he's almost forgotten all about that day until he gets a Facebook request from Robbie under the name Bob Stone, looking to grab a drink before the impending 20-year high school reunion.

This set-up feels a little slow, with few laughs landing in the first 10-15 minutes. But all that changes as soon as Dwayne Johnson shows up. Johnson's endlessly cheerful disposition makes almost everything that comes out of his mouth more amusing than it otherwise might. Whether it's references to Roadhouse and Sixteen Candles or his chipper attitude even in the face of danger, Johnson is undoubtedly the star of this movie, and Kevin Hart is along for the ride as the frenetic straight man, making his usual hyperactivity and yelling that much more tolerable.

Every minute that Johnson and Hart are on screen together is fun, hilarious and full of energy. But that's held back in a frustrating way by the flimsy story about some nuclear codes or something that doesn't matter. Basically, the CIA thinks Bob is a rogue agent responsible for killing his partner. He's trying to prove his innocence, but there's compelling word from the CIA agents in pursuit (led by Amy Ryan, not allowed to have much of any fun herself until the outtakes) that Stone may actually be a bad guy, so you're left wondering. That's probably the most compelling part of the plot, and it's not even that thrilling.

Central Intelligence

Beyond that, the action mostly leaves something to be desired. Save for a quick fight that involves a guy fighting Dwayne Johnson with a motorcycle, there's nothing memorable about the action. It's all just set up to allow jokes to happen, and some of it feels a little cheap too. Though they may not come as consistently as they need to in order to make up for the lack of interest in the story, there are still some big laughs to be had.

A big chunk of the comedy comes from surprising cameo appearances that thankfully were not spoiled by the marketing. We're not about to spoil them here either, but these are the kind of cameos that just their appearance gets you to laugh immediately, and thankfully, some great scenes with them follow. One cameo involves a recurring flashback throughout the film, and it's actually one of the more clever aspects of the silly backstory that set the plot in motion.

If you're going into Central Intelligence looking for laughs, you won't be disappointed. Even as someone who does not enjoy Kevin Hart, he has some moments without Johnson that made me chuckle. But this is Johnson's movie through and through, and it just shows that he has just as much strength in comedy as he does in action. Outshining one of the biggest comedy stars in the business is no easy feat, but Johnson does it with ease and a big, cheesy grin on his face.

Overall, Central Intelligence doesn't have the same quality action or story as something like Hot Fuzz or Tropic Thunder, but it does bring a plenty of hilarity to the table to make up for it. It's a shame that four screenwriters, including Neighbors star Ike Barinholtz, couldn't come up with a better script, but if the success of this film ends up warranting a sequel, hopefully they can make up for it with a second round. If not, we can just wait for Johnson and Hart to reteam on Jumanji.

/Film rating: 7.5 out of 10