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

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

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.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

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.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.