Central Intelligence

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As a movie critic that has to sit through a lot of horrible movies, comedies are always a treat. That’s because even if they’re bad, you’ll still laugh a few times.

Since I’m one of the few people that didn’t care for either of the Ride Along films (even though I find Kevin Hart to be funny), I wasn’t sure changing Hart’s pairing from an Ice Cube to a Rock would be any better. I was wrong. My girlfriend and I, probably not in the demographic the movie is aiming for (our combined age is 102)…found ourselves laughing throughout.

It’s the typical buddy action/comedy, that’s derivative of stuff you’ve seen before. It felt like The In-Laws (one of the best comedies ever made), with a bit of Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion (one of the most underrated comedies), and a lot of Schwarzenegger flicks.

The commercials looked funny, but that tells you little about how good a movie will be. The poster was catchy (how can you not laugh at the tagline: Saving the world takes a little HART and a big JOHNSON”?).

It starts rather weak, with what you saw in all the trailers. A young and fat Johnson in the shower at school, being tormented by bullies. Hart is being awarded a plaque for being the best athlete at the school (by the principal, played by Phil Reeves, who was an excellent principal in Election). Hart is the only one nice to Johnson, and so when it’s a week before the high school reunion, Johnson reaches out to him. They go out for a few beers, beat up some thugs in the bar, and are on the way to becoming besties.

Hart is having a little trouble with his wife, mostly because she’s excited about the reunion, and he made the mistake of saying his life has been a failure. Of course, he didn’t mean marrying her, but the fact that he’s merely an accountant. Even in that field, he just got passed over for a promotion, which doesn’t do wonders for his self-esteem.

As the movie continues, it finds its groove. These two are both charming and they have chemistry together. Sure, the entire plot is completely and utterly ridiculous, but so what. You’re smiling as you watch it all go down.

It’s refreshing that Hart is playing the straight guy. It’s so much more fun than when he’s a manic bundle of energy and comes across as annoying. In this, he’s the one that’s annoyed, and each time, it’s with humorous results. Whether that’s his anger at the CIA agent (Oscar nominated Amy Ryan) who is questioning his involvement in a possible crime, to his obnoxious co-workers.

Since we saw that Johnson was a nerd, even though he’s all buffed out as an adult, his awkwardness seems realistic. He’s got problems interacting socially with people, and sometimes seems more interested in quoting ‘80s movies than having a real conversation.

You’re never quite sure if Johnson is a CIA agent that’s gone rogue (the way we wondered with Peter Falk in The In-Laws), or if he’s being framed. Either way, it’s a safe bet that Hart is getting in way over his head (figuratively and literally).

There are a few fun cameos, and a running gag where Johnson pops up quickly in places that always shock Hart (since he just left him stranded somewhere, or sleeping on his couch). There are a handful of great lines from Hart. One time, it has him claiming his greatest weakness is not being able to make bird noises (and his attempt to make them). It reminded me of one of the few funny scenes in Three Amigos, where they riff on bird noises.

When Hart’s wife (Danielle Nicolet) senses her husband’s nervousness on the phone she asks, “What’s wrong? You sound like Ray Liotta at the end of ‘Goodfellas’.”

To which a surprised Hart responds, “Nice reference.”

Another movie reference that was nice, was when a partner of Johnson’s tells him “The movie ‘Roadhouse’ sucks!”

Johnson is given a lot of good lines, too. At one point, talking about Hart being the president of the drama club, he excitedly says, “You’re like a snack-sized Denzel.”

Listen, this isn’t great filmmaking, but it’s a summer comedy and it’s “Hart” is in the right place.

It gets 3 stars out of 5.