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.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

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.