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Central Intelligence Review

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Fortyish accountant Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was once the coolest guy in school, but now he’s depressed with his middle management lot. That changes when the former geeky kid at school, now a CIA assassin (Dwayne Johnson), enlists his help.

★★★★★

Everybody loves The Rock, right? His skill at both one-liners and punching people through walls means an action comedy with his name above the title definitely pops the interest. Sadly, in Kevin Hart he’s saddled with a co-star who, rather than bringing the belly laughs, is nigh-on unbearable, and a script that barely feels like it reached a second draft. As is sadly familiar, The Rock is the best thing in a deeply ropey enterprise.

Hart's performance seems to be gunning for Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 3 in the irritation stakes.

It’s a shame, because there’s an inkling of a decent idea here. Twenty years ago Johnson’s school fatty was humiliated in front of his entire year – his digital transformation into an obese teenager is quite something – and now he’s turned his life around, lost the weight, and works for the CIA. The cool kid who comforted him – Hart – is depressingly aware he peaked in high school, and now hates his childless, professionally unfulfilled existence. The Rock bursts back into Hart’s life out of the blue thanks to some vague spy nonsense, and in the film’s sole interesting touch of reality the cool kid/fat kid dynamic from school is recreated in adulthood – despite Kevin Hart being the size of a table leg and The Rock being, well, The Rock. Central Intelligence’s best moments come when this is stressed, with the nerdy, bum-bag loving chump persisting inside the man-mountain.

That set-up suggests that character comedy was initially the goal here, but it’s not what’s resulted. We’re sure not in the realm of intrigue: the central McGuffin – something to do with Hart, an accountant, being able to track transactions pertaining to stolen spy satellite data – is barely sketched, and the terrorist threat it carries with it makes no sense, unless Isis are headed to America via Zeppelin.

Instead, we’re faced with an action comedy where the action is so perfunctory it makes Cop Out seem like Heat. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re The Millers) has no form in this department, and it shows – this material needs an Edgar Wright, not a point-and-shoot journeyman.

The comedy isn’t up to much, either: scenes plod on and on with the slack editing of an Apatow improv-fest, only without the jokes. Hart seems aware of this, and tries to compensate by screeching his way through a performance that seems to be gunning for Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 3 in the irritation stakes. Dad jokes about Twilight and social media suggest the script sat on a shelf for a while: you can practically see the dust falling off the screen. Jason Bateman and Kumail Nanjiani do show up for welcome cameos, with Bateman producing a comic riff on his nasty turn in The Gift, and when they do you can feel the whole thing come to life – but it’s only twitching on the table.

An action comedy without any action or comedy – not even The Rock’s charisma and enthusiasm can save this dud.