Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Central Intelligence (2016)

You know, Kevin Hart has all the right in the world to be apathetic. I’m not saying he is, by any means. He still possesses all the passion and elan, as he did when he was a B-lister. I think that deep down, he knows that he can fall back into a lull, into a wall of inactivity and obscurity. And given his style and his approach to stand-up, which is beloved by me, might I add, I think he’s picking any script that feels accessible and easy. He’s not making audacious decisions and he doesn’t necessarily need to.

I am moreso referring to the inordinate demand that Kevin Hart has experienced. As an African-American comedian blessed with that urban energy being unfortunately placed in a brisk, bustling environment, he averages three films a year. This year, he has four film projects, including his upcoming stand-up film. Even with his more forgettable efforts, he has at least one film a year that, no matter what, would allow him to rest comfortably on his laurels, coasting financially, in addition to other films and television projects in his oeuvre.

It’s that sheer overexposure that, while may not morph Hart as apathetic, has turned me apathetic, which is a shame. Let Me Explain, while not having as many big laughs as his first three stand-up films, is still my favorite, because not only is it more consistently funny, but it also serves as a landmark; a testament to how far he has come in the industry. It acted as his graduation and promotion to an A-list celebrity. I want to provide him that allegiance. However, Hollywood’s attempts to write for Hart quite often result in relentless mediocrity. So, couple him with the enduring, multi-layered genre of...the buddy film, add in a competent actor who’s well past his prime, and integrate that with a script and story developed by a former MAD TV cast member, whose credits include Disaster Movie. Voila! Central Intelligence is produced, a film that has...moderate intelligence. Nothing more.

The film begins twenty years ago in 1996. Let that sink in. Dwayne Johnson is Robert Weirdicht (if you don’t get it, say it out loud, but it still won’t be funny), a massively overweight student, who is the victim of bullying. Kevin Hart is Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner, an extremely popular student. While Calvin receives an award, a nude Robert, fresh out the school shower, is humiliated in front of the entire student body, with Calvin giving him the only shred of respectability and sympathy. Flash forward to present time, Calvin is an accountant, fed up with the humdrum beast that is his life. Days before his dreaded twentieth high school reunion, he reunites with Robert, now known as Bob Stone. Bob quickly ignites a bond with Calvin. Unfortunately, it gets complicated and crazy when it is revealed that Bob is wanted by the CIA and forces Calvin into assisting him via his accounting skills.

Let me get this out of the way right now. The acting is not one of my quibbles with this film. Hart, while at times seeming desperate, never comes across as detached. He does his best, just nothing spectacular. Johnson, on the other end of the spectrum, is quite fascinating in his performance. He puts a unique bent on his beefy, tough-guy character by implementing a raw sensitivity, unaffected idiosyncrasy, and even some clingy, creepy undertones. It’s the closest thing to a thick, intricate character this film as. All other characters are stock cut-outs, but their respective actors portray them competently.
Additionally, this film does have some laughs. I would say roughly 40-45% of the film is genuinely humorous. The highlight, in my opinion, is a bit where Bob becomes a therapist for Calvin and his wife. It’s a perfect marriage of timing, set-up, delivery, and punchlines. It’s a great bit of comedy that had me laughing uproariously for its duration of approximately three minutes. Additionally, when the film incorporates one of the former high school bullies into the story, it’s a hilarious cameo that I will not spoil for you. On the flipside, the film ends on an asinine, useless cameo, which uh…

...yeah, this seems like the perfect route to discuss the fundamental problem with the film. The humor is highly inconsistent and empty. Some jokes have a weak set-up, but a decent punchline. Some jokes have a solid set-up, but an anemic punchline. However, most of the time, the jokes don’t even resonate. To visualize it, if the writers were slinging these jokes at the wall, some would stick, some wouldn’t, but a majority would vanish in mid-air, failing to leave any remnant or scent of humor. In many cases, Hart has to employ his over-exaggerated delivery in a frantic attempt to elevate the material and translate it to humor, but more often than not, it proves to be dissonant.

Because of this trait, the film is actually rather plodding. What’s worse is that many times, it takes itself so seriously. Unfortunately, it leaves us with utterly customary action sequences, a torrent of overblown, unnecessary plot twists and double-crossings, and sappy, maudlin moments about bullying, friendship, being happy with life, and…*snore* *snore* *snore*

Ironic, given how many people rave that the aspects of bullying were the best part of the film. I personally disagree. There was nothing in this film that dealt with bullying that hasn’t been seen in a wide variety of media, done infinitely better, might I add. It’s nothing new, which is the best way to describe this film. It’s an uninspired, drudging, forcibly bipolar, average experience. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s about as good as a film of this type can be, which, let’s be real, is not very. I can’t say it wasted my time, but it didn’t deliver anything fresh. If you’ve seen Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs. Rush Hour, or, hell, even The Heat, you’ve basically seen everything that this film offers. Unless you’re going to provide some interesting flavoring, all I’m receiving is the same old water from the same old well.

RATING: Two out of four stars

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