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Between The Rock and a Hart Place 

"Central Intelligence" goes for laughs over thrills

The Rock gently cradles Kevin Hart because he can, and we love it.

The Rock gently cradles Kevin Hart because he can, and we love it.

"Central Intelligence" is not a perfect movie. There are a few long stretches with no laughs, the action is poorly edited and shot, and the script has a few downright stinkers littered throughout. Yet, "Central Intelligence" is easily one of the most entertaining films of the year because of two huge advantages. Firstly, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart have an effortlessly fun chemistry. Whenever they are bouncing off of one another, it is a blast. The other main draw of the film is that it has a big, warm heart and a refreshing, good-natured vibe that gives the movie a sweetness that almost doesn't exist in studio films anymore.

We pick up with the characters in high school, with Hart as Calvin Joyner, the most popular kid in school. The Rock is Robbie Weirdicht (pronounced Weird-Dick), an overweight kid with no friends who is tossed nude into the gym during a pep rally. While everyone laughs, Joyner gives Weirdicht his letterman jacket to cover up with. Twenty years later, Joyner is happily married to his high school sweetheart, but is miserable working as an accountant. The day before their 20-year high school reunion, Weirdicht finds Joyner on Facebook, and the movie takes off.

Weirdicht has changed his name to Bob Stone and now looks like The Rock. He likes unicorns, jorts and "Roadhouse" and is also a rogue CIA operative who has killed his partner and escaped with U.S. satellite codes he is planning to sell to the highest bidder. At least that's the story according to the CIA agents hunting Stone. Now Joyner has to figure out who to trust and whether Stone is really a psychopathic killer or a good-natured hero.

The only reason any of this premise works is because of The Rock. This sounds a little silly when talking about a movie this inherently goofy, but The Rock gives the performance of his career here. His undeniable charisma and likability are in full effect, but suffused with a weird, possibly menacing energy. There's a little bit of "The Cable Guy" in Stone as The Rock adds a deeply sad undercurrent to his bright-eyed smiles.

Kevin Hart is the perfect straight man here. His constant exasperated confusion and terror at the situation he has become involved in gives his live-wire manic energy a perfect outlet. Sometimes Hart's personality is too big for the role or the cast he is involved with, but he slides into the role of an everyman much more smoothly than his past work implied. The mystery of whether Bob Stone is a superhero or supervillain is well-written with the reveal coming at the perfect moment. The plotting can be a bit predictable, but the characters are so much fun that the flaws are easily forgiven.

The biggest disappointment of the film comes on the action side of things. Since most of the comedy works, "Central Intelligence" would be an outright classic if the gunfights, car chases and fight scenes were executed as well as in "Lethal Weapon," "48 Hours" or even "Knight and Day." Director Rawson Marshall Thurber proved his comedic chops with movies like "Dodgeball" and "We're the Millers," but he has a long way to go when it comes to creating memorable action set pieces.

"Central Intelligence" doesn't demand much from the viewer other than wanting to spend time with Kevin Hart and The Rock. The duo has enough good-natured charm between them to turn this into a long-running franchise, and as long as the movies keep getting better and no worse, that would be good news indeed.

Central Intelligence

Dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber

Grade: B

Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX


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