Skip to main content

Are you kidding me? I’m not helping you, you attacked somebody with a banana!

Central Intelligence
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Pretty much your average run-of-the-mill, crowd-pleasing buddy comedy, short on actual inspiration but pumped with star power. The precise plot of Central Intelligence may not have been done before, but if feels like it has (fat, bullied high school kid becomes super macho spy), and the gags follow suit. Nevertheless, the Rock and Kevin Hart (who seems in danger of becoming ubiquitous) have undoubted chemistry, and for the most part the conceit of Dwayne Johnson playing a very uncool teenager in a very cool man’s body goes a sufficient distance to make this not too aggravating, if never remotely in danger of becoming clever.


It’s more difficult to believe Hart’s Calvin Joyner was ever his school’s star athlete, since he only ever gives off class clown (the ever-present de-aging tech doesn’t sell it either – seriously, it seems you can’t watch a Hollywood movie at the moment without tripping over waxy younger versions of star faces). Johnson’s Bob Stone being goofily genuine and guileless one moment and suave and can-do the next doesn’t really play either, to be honest, except that the Rock’s charisma makes it travel.


There’s a lot here that doesn’t play, though, from Johnson’s high school fat suit, to pretending a rope is his Johnson, to his “celebratory” birthday suit appearance at the class reunion (exposing yourself in public is acceptable and even estimable if you’re the Rock, apparently). Still, the banter between Bob and Calvin has a likeable back and forth of cool/dork, switching places depending on the setting/activity. Bob wears unicorn t-shirts and loves John Hughes movies (“Then I realised high school was nothing like 16 Candles. And I’ll never be Molly Ringwald”) and exhibits disarming sincerity in response to the inevitable gang-of-thugs-in-a-bar scene (“That’s a lot of homophobia coming out of a very angry man. You need to get that looked at by a trained professional”).


The flipside of Calvin’s life having come to nothing very much (“If 18-year-old me could see me now, he’d think I was a total loser”), despite having married his high school sweetheart, seems to be remedied by joining the intelligence services and having a kid (if in doubt about what’s missing in your life, have a kid).


This is a less satisfying spy comedy than Spy, despite a very game Amy Ryan as Bob’s superior, hunting him down because she thinks he’s criminal the Black Badger, who is selling top secret satellite codes. Aaron Paul, as Bob’s believed-dead partner (of course, as soon as we see Paul in a flashback, we know he’s going to show up alive), proves yet again that he was so good as Jesse Pinkman because that’s how he plays every part (he even calls someone “Bitch” here). Jason Bateman appears as the older version of the guy who horribly bullied Bob, but the character is guilty of overkill. It would have been funnier if Trevor really had been a born-again Christian, rather than a chronically unrepentant bad guy begging to get punched. Bateman does improvise some funny lines though (“You’re still shorter than my cat” he tells Calvin).


I’m not sure Kevin Hart is destined to ever appear in a really great movie. He’s one of those comedians whose watchword are “That’ll do”. As such, Johnson walks off with the best moments (“How dare you!” he responds, when Bateman exclaims “Fuck Patrick Swayze!”) and scenes (posing as the marriage therapist of Calvin and Maggie – Danielle Nicolet – much to Calvin’s indignation; “This is not real” Calvin tells Maggie. “It is to me” she replies) There’s the occasional remark about CIA surveilling everything (Facebook, “Just pick up any phone in your house, They’re all bugged” invites Ryan with regard to Calvin’s job offer) and the suggestion that, implicitly, none of this is anything to worry about (the CIA are heroes, and the Calvin is welcomed by them with open arms, making his life all that much better). Central Intelligence also features a cameo from Melissa McCarthy, and made almost as much money globally as her vastly more expensive Ghostbusters. Together they suggest that, while the traditional star comedy isn’t dead, it has hit a bit of a rough patch.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

The President is dead. You got that? Somebody’s had him for dinner.

Escape from New York (1981)
(SPOILERS) There’s a refreshingly simplicity to John Carpenter’s nightmare vision of 1997. Society and government don’t represent a global pyramid; they’re messy and erratic, and can go deeply, deeply wrong without connivance, subterfuge, engineered rebellions or recourse to reset. There’s also a sense of playfulness here, of self-conscious cynicism regarding the survival prospects for the US, as voiced by Kurt Russell’s riff on Clint Eastwood anti-heroics in the decidedly not dead form of Snake Plissken. But in contrast to Carpenter’s later Big Trouble in Little China (where Russell is merciless to the legend of John Wayne), Escape from New York is underpinned by a relentlessly grim, grounded aesthetic, one that lends texture and substance; it remains one of the most convincing and memorable of dystopian visions.

The present will look after itself. But it’s our duty to realise the future with our imagination.

Until the End of the World (1991)
(SPOILERS) With the current order devolving into what looks inevitably like a passively endorsed dystopia, a brave new chipped and tracked vision variously in line with cinema’s warnings (or its predictive programming, depending on where your cynicism lands), I’ve been revisiting a few of these futuristic visions. That I picked the very Euro-pudding Until the End of the World is perhaps entirely antagonistic to such reasoning, seeing as how it is, at heart, a warm and fuzzy, upbeat, humanist musing on where we are all going.