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‘Central Intelligence’: Funny Dwayne Johnson, but not much more

Hulking spy Bob (Dwayne Johnson) remains in awe of his high school hero Calvin (Kevin Hart) in "Central Intelligence." | WARNER BROS.

Guess it’s my turn to take out the trash again.

“Central Intelligence” is one of those slick, gunplay-riddled, stupidly plotted, aggressively loud buddy movies — so formulaic and dumb, even if you see it you’ll probably forget you’ve seen it by the end of the year.

And if that’s the case, consider yourself fortunate.

For about a half-dozen years now, I’ve been writing reviews of Kevin Hart movies in which I mention how likable Hart is, and what a shame it is to see his talents squandered.

Here we go again. As was the case with the “Ride Along” movies and “Get Hard,” Hart is cast in the role of the likable everyman who is thrust into dangerous situations where he conveys great fear by cowering, trying to talk his way out of peril, running away from bad guys, dodging bullets, howling during chase sequences and accidentally getting the better of henchmen during quick-cut fight scenes.

Oh, and there’s the obligatory domestic subplot in which Hart’s character has to make things right with his beautiful but clueless significant other, who is always the last one to realize her man’s life is in serious danger.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber with a screenplay from a team of three writers (including Thurber), “Central Intelligence” alternates intermittently funny exchanges of dialogue with depressingly familiar action sequences featuring dozens of gunmen who are incredibly poor shots and car chases and fight sequences that seem to take place in towns and cities where there are no bystanders and there’s no media coverage. Things explode in a vacuum.

Hart plays Calvin Joyner, who in 1996 was the king of his high school: a top student, a superstar athlete, prom king, in love with the most beautiful girl, admired by all including the principal, who actually says at an awards ceremony if he were biologically capable of having a son, he’d want it to be Calvin. (The equally cringe-inducing response from Calvin: If his mom were into white guys, she’d go for the principal.)

On the eve of Calvin’s 20th high school reunion, he’s not feeling so hot about the way things turned out. He’s a mid-level forensic account on the slow track at work — hardly living up to his “Golden Jet” nickname from high school. Sure, he’s married to his high school sweetheart, the lovely and successful Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), but even her success makes him feel lousy about himself.

Enter one Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). Back in the day, Bob was a morbidly obese, unpopular kid who was the subject of a horribly cruel prank in front of the entire student body — but now he’s a chiseled god involved in international intrigue as a spy, or maybe he’s a spy gone rogue, but whatever he’s doing it’s really badass and involves lots of serious people with serious weaponry wanting him dead.

One kinda funny touch: Even though Bob is so chiseled he looks like a statue come to life, and he’s capable of taking down four or five bad guys without breaking a sweat, he’s still a major dork. He loves unicorns and dumb commercials from the 1990s, he wears jorts and a fanny pack, and he’s incapable of shielding his unabashed hero worship of “The Jet,” as he calls Calvin. You can’t help but laugh at Johnson’s endearing performance, especially when he has flashbacks to high school traumas and he’s utterly vulnerable, despite his hulking persona and his trained-killer skill set.

The wonderful Amy Ryan is wasted in a clichéd role as a CIA agent convinced Bob is the “Black Badger,” an international bad guy trying to gain access to secret codes that will compromise national security. (It feels as if about a dozen characters from a dozen different recent movies are out there in pursuit of secret codes that will compromise national security.) Aaron Paul has too little screen time as Bob’s erstwhile partner, Phil.

Far too many of the one-liners in “Central Intelligence” contain references to pop culture, from Taylor Swift’s love life to “Road House” to “Sixteen Candles” to Jake Gyllenhaal to Denzel Washington to a thuddingly unfunny moment in which Hart is told he looks like “a black Will Smith.” You can practically see the screenwriters’ fingerprints on the dialogue.

We get cardboard bad guys who are homophobes, sexist pigs, bullies or some combination thereof. Just because they’re the villains doesn’t excuse the low-level humor.

There’s never a moment when intelligence is central to the alleged humor of this film.


New Line Cinema/Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and written by Thurber, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen. Rated PG-13 (for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language). Running time: 108 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.