REVIEW: Central Intelligence (12A) ***
Underscored with a heartfelt anti-bullying message, Central Intelligence is a surprisingly sweet and goofy mismatched buddy comedy that might lack the quick-wittedness promised by its title, but has good will in abundance.
Surprisingly, Dwayne Johnson is gifted the lion’s share of the haphazard script’s one-liners and physical pratfalls.
The wrestling superstar turned hulking action hero embraces his character’s eccentricities with gusto, casting the typically hyperactive Kevin Hart as a relative straight man rather than the usual catalyst of on-screen tomfoolery.
Winning chemistry between the two leads galvanises Rawson Marshall Thurber’s picture when gags fall flat or the plot’s various bluffs and double-bluffs nudge the whole enterprise alarmingly close to preposterousness.
Gossamer thin romantic subplots are threaded very loosely around the subterfuge and outlandish spy games, culminating in a surprise final reel cameo that guarantees winning smiles all round as the end credits roll.
Calvin Joyner (Hart) was the golden boy of his high school in 1996, winning countless awards for his sporting prowess.
He proudly assumed the nickname Golden Jet and delighted classmates with his signature move: a backflip from a standing position.
In sharp contrast, overweight misfit Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) was bullied mercilessly by classmates and suffered the humiliation of being flung naked into the school gymnasium during an end of term student rally hosted by Principal Kent (Phil Reeves).
Twenty years later, Calvin is a humble accountant, who has married his sweetheart, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet).
Their high school reunion beckons and Calvin is reluctant to attend because he doesn’t feel he has delivered on the promise of his formative years.
Out of the blue, Robbie reconnects with Calvin via social media and the two men bond over a couple of drinks.
It transpires that Robbie is a CIA agent, who may or may not be in possession of missile launch codes that are poised to be sold to a mysterious buyer (Thomas Kretschmann).
Rival CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her colleagues Mitchell (Tim Griffin) and Cooper (Timothy John Smith) recruit Calvin because they believe Robbie is a terrorist known as the Black Badger.
Torn between past and present, Calvin must deduce if he can trust Robbie or if he is being used as a pawn in a deadly conspiracy.
At a sprightly 108 minutes, Central Intelligence doesn’t outstay its welcome, keeping us guessing about Robbie’s true motives until the explosive final frames.
Thurber’s script, co-written by Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, punctuates the fractious banter with slow motion action sequences including a hilariously overblown chase around an open-plan office.
Oscar nominee Ryan keeps a straight face as madness swirls around her, as a single-minded career woman trapped in a world of misbehaving men.
The boundless, puppy dog energy of the film and its eager-to-please double-act ultimately proves irresistible.