Given their individual popularity and wildly contrasting physical sizes, it was only a matter of time before Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart appeared in a movie together. That movie is “Central Intelligence,” a good-natured, low-decibel action comedy from “The Mindy Project” writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen and “Dodgeball” director Rawson Marshall Thurber.
In 1996, the unfortunately named Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) is a fat, bullied doofus at a Baltimore high school. When he’s the subject of a cruel prank, football star and all-around most popular kid in school Calvin Joyner (Hart) shows kindness. Twenty years later, Cal is a bored accountant who feels like he peaked in high school, while Robbie Weirdicht has rechristened himself Bob Stone, lost a lot of weight, and become a hulking, muscle-bound CIA agent.
He’s still a nerdy, guileless dork, though (“I’m big-time into ‘corns,” he says, meaning unicorns), dressed in jorts and a fanny-pack. When Bob reappears in Cal’s life, on the eve of their 20-year reunion, it’s to borrow his accounting skills to track an arms dealer. Adding to the mystery? Bob might actually be a rogue CIA agent, on the run from his superior, Agent Harris (Amy Ryan).
The scenario of Kevin Hart playing a regular guy who’s dragged into something dangerous is a familiar one (“Ride Along 2” came out just six months ago), and “Central Intelligence” eventually becomes a very familiar action comedy, the kind that ends with multiple CIA agents and villains shooting hundreds of bullets at close range but almost never hitting anyone. The film lingers too long after the story’s climax, too, moseying when it should be dashing to the finish line.
Never mind that, though. The film is easy-going and often very funny — and when it’s not funny, at least it’s not irritating or stupid. (It’s amazing how many comedies screw that part up.) Bob Stone might be the most interesting character Johnson has played, and he and Hart play well against each other, bringing the self-assured humor of the screenplay to life without hamming it up or relying on cheap gags. There’s something to be said for amiable, (mostly) inoffensive comedies that make you laugh, even the ones that flit from your memory as soon as you see them.
B (1 hr., 47 min.; )