The arithmetic of comedy is not that difficult.
If you produce logically linked laughs every five minutes in a feature film, you have created a classic.
Deliver random chuckles every 10 minutes, and your movie is pretty good.
Provide the best fun in a pile of outtakes shown in the end credits and you have a zero-momentum mess like Central Intelligence. It’s the kind of movie that sends you from the theater smiling because you’re glad it’s over.
No need to bother with the paltry excuse for a plot cobbled together by the film’s three screenwriters. Let’s just say that Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart play high school acquaintances rejoining 20 years after graduation to cavort through a thicket of spy nonsense.
Johnson’s character, an obese wallflower in adolescence, has toned up to intimidating size but remains a pussycat at heart. Formerly king of the campus, Hart has become an office drone. National security agents appear, shots are fired, the duo is on the run, and an inexplicable running gag involving bananas is milked to exhaustion.
Johnson and Hart are performers of trustworthy charisma, but their personal appeal hits its limits when they are recruited to perform in a film that is hard to sit through. Central Intelligence is a chase movie that goes nowhere, but from which there’s no escape.
Hart plays the stereotypical innocent everyman pulled into an espionage crisis, blithering at his hapless best scene after scene and doing tumbledown slapstick but unable to elevate the mindless material. Johnson’s character has two very slim dimensions — is he a steroid-swollen version of the dork he once was or an amoral trickster? But even a physical juggernaut can only force so many gags.
There are three funny moments in the film. Two come in the form of microscopic cameos from comic actors of undeniable mystique, whose identities should be concealed. When they appear, Central Intelligence quickly and briefly transforms into a solid enjoyment.
The other arrives when TV regular Megan Park pops up as a bar-and-grill waitress so enamored of Johnson’s bemuscled protein-and-steroids physique that she turns her table service into a blazingly ironic pickup attempt. She lightens up the badly constructed film every moment she’s onscreen, and when she’s gone you wish she’d return.
It’s not in every film you meet a petite asset bigger than The Rock, but miracles happen. Unfortunately, Central Intelligence needs lots of miracles.
☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson
Rated: PG-13 (crude and suggestive humor, nudity, action violence, brief strong language)
Running time: 114 min.