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The shocking thing about Central Intelligence isn’t that it’s a mediocre action-comedy, but that it’s a mediocre action-comedy brought about by an earnest and genuine desire to be great. Sure, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart could sell a movie regardless of the quality, but the film definitely switches up their presumptive roles, as well as adding a solid action subplot with an inspired piece about bullying. While these aspects coexist less than ideally, there’s an earnest nature to the film that gives it charm, even when it’s in over its head.

Calvin Doyer’s (Kevin Hart) life is in somewhat of a panic mode; despite being promised great things when he was youthful, is life hasn’t panned out, with his personal and professional relationships breaking down. Calvin’s life is turned upside down when he reunites with Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), an old friend from high school who worships Calvin, and now operates for the CIA. When Bob drags Calvin into a conspiracy, their friendship is put to the test and Calvin must face his future, with Bob facing his past.

What’s fascinating is how interesting Calvin and Bobs’ relationship is; the story is one of potential and consequences, and the mismatched comedy of seeing the evolution of a relationship makes for an intriguing and fun story, even without the CIA action elements. What’s more impressive? The fact that the action does work, with a rather smart plot about CIA operations and a series of well choreographed fight scenes. The film also musters in a message about anti-bullying and acceptance, that while a little corny is also rather honest and sweet.

To say these elements blend perfectly would be a lie, but it’s the chemistry between Johnson and Hart that drives everything. Yes, there are scenes based around one gag, but they work, and the roles are cleverly swapped with Johnson doing the comedic heavy lifting and Hart playing the straight man. These guys are stars for a reason, and the charisma and energy they bring to such a strange film somewhat justifies the strange choices.

Put plainly, Central Intelligence could’ve been an autopilot film: little ambition, minimal reward. But as it stands, the film is a fun, beautiful mess of a comedy. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, and it’s predictable at points, but the overall effort put into is worth noting, and worth recommending. Grade: B

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