CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (Rawson Marshall Thurber). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (June 17). See listing. Rating: NNN
Central Intelligence is the latest spin on the action-comedy formula perfected four decades ago in Arthur Hiller’s The In-Laws – an unassuming civilian gets roped into potentially world-saving hijinks by a wacky pal who claims to be a secret agent.
Back in 1979, it was Alan Arkin freaking out when he was pulled along on a Central American caper by Peter Falk in this iteration, Kevin Hart is the easily panicked square and Dwayne Johnson the gung-ho wild card. Their pairing not only makes comic sense but seems visually logical as well as the hulking Johnson throws the diminutive Hart around like a toy in various settings.
You can feel director/co-writer Thurber struggling with the action stuff. After a terrific early bar fight, there’s not much invention to the set pieces, and the whole master plot is pretty obvious. He’s much more comfortable letting his actors goof around in a scene, as he demonstrated in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and, to a lesser extent, We’re The Millers.
And Central Intelligence does indeed bounce along on the strength of its cast. Johnson’s never more engaging than when he’s undermining his macho image with giddy enthusiasm (see Be Cool and Pain & Gain), cheerfully rolling over Hart’s bewildered terror in scene after scene.
The supporting players are all great, too, particularly Amy Ryan as a CIA chief who believes Johnson has flipped and Veronica Mars and Party Down scene-stealer Ryan Hansen as a dickish co-worker of Hart’s.
There have certainly been weaker variations on this concept – like, say, the 2003 remake of The In-Laws, which matched up Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas.
What, you don’t remember it? That’s my point.