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Central Intelligence' smarter than you think

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Dynamic Kevin Hart/The Rock pairing offers comedic chemistry

It's relatively easy to make a passable action comedy. Just string together a handful of jokes with some decently-crafted action sequences into something vaguely resembling a plot, then toss a few recognizable faces into the mix. Boom a serviceable and (probably) not-terrible action comedy.

However, when you can manage some real chemistry in your cast, wellthat's when you have a chance to do quite a bit better than not-terrible.

That's the biggest surprise of 'Central Intelligence.' The pairing at the film's center Kevin Hart and the Rock (sorry, Dwayne Johnson you'll always be the Rock to me) is very strong. So engaging, in fact, that they actually elevate the film around them.

In short, this movie is better than you might think.

Hart is Calvin Joyner. He's an accountant who is starting to believe that perhaps he peaked in high school. He's bored at work and keeps getting passed over for promotions that are given to less deserving recipients.

It all changes when Bob Stone (The Rock) comes back into his life. See, back in high school, Bob was an overweight outcast, bullied and mocked by almost everybody. Calvin was the only one who was ever nice to him; after one particularly humiliating incident (offered up in flashback at the beginning of the movie), he leaves school and never comes back.

Now, however, Bob has become an elite intelligence operative. He's on the trail of a mysterious adversary known only as the Black Badger; the Badger is auctioning some satellite codes orsomething? It doesn't matter some sort of high-tech MacGuffin. Anyway, Bob needs Calvin's help to track down information vital in disrupting the sale and catching the bad guys.

As you can imagine, Calvin is less than thrilled at the notion of risking life and limb especially when CIA agents led by Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan, 'Bridge of Spies') show up to tell him that Bob may not be being entirely truthful with what he has been sharing.

In short, Calvin doesn't know who he can trust. But the consequences of this mission are globally impactful he has to decide if Bob is still the same Fat Robbie on the inside.

That's really about it. There's not a lot of actual story here 'Central Intelligence' is working with a decidedly basic narrative. The twists and turns are predictable and perfunctory; odds are that you'll arrive at the answers well before the film does.

And yetit works.

It works because Kevin Hart and the Rock are fantastic together. Hart's doing his standard shtick, with all the Chris Tucker-esque fast chatter, but it works here as well as it ever has. Because he's the straight man.

Yes, really.

The driving comedic force in this pairing is the Rock. The guy has spent the last few years proving that, if anything, we who predicted movie stardom for him might have undersold it a bit. He has high-wattage star power and he wields it with utterly joyful abandon. His Bob Stone is goofy and charming and absurd and extremely weird.

Put the two of them together and you get one of the better buddy comedies in recent memory. Chemistry creates comedy and these guys have plenty to spare. Hart is much better when he shares the heavy comedic lifting; without that desperate need to carry the day, he's much less grating. The Rock is more than up to the task, embracing a decidedly idiosyncratic character with real gusto.

There are some other good performances Ryan is good; notables such as Aaron Paul and Jason Bateman show up for a couple of fun scenes but 'Central Intelligence' is unabashedly reliant on the two men at its center. The filmmakers bet it all on Hart/Rock and it paid off.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber ('We're the Millers') has a good ear for this flavor of film; the screenplay co-written by Thurber alongside Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen is plot-light but bit-heavy, with plenty of gags and some surprisingly tight (albeit slightly too brief) action sequences. It seems that everyone on this side of the camera knew what they had in their central dynamic; they didn't try to do too much, but instead let their guys do their thing.

Smart move.

'Central Intelligence' isn't a great movie, but it does manage to be pretty good. As far as summer comedies go, that's a solid win. The narrative may be lacking, but the Rock and Hart more than make up for it with their combined talents.

[4 out of 5]


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