Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
It must be acknowledged that there is a genuine interest in the contemplation of genre in contemporary Hollywood. A desire seems to permeate through newer mainstream film-writing; titles they yield often seem to exist in a state of introspection of the American hand in creating distinct genre-based rules, which therefore, enable these films to explore the various possibilities of busting them. If the 21st century Hollywood film is interesting at all, it is so because of its readiness to cause genres to intersect, mix, engage with or in certain cases, cancel each other out. Consider these recent deliberations: Playing it Cool (2011), which re-engineers the traditional romcom, or 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), which concocts a prison drama with an apocalypse film and our present consideration, Central Intelligence, whose narrative is mobilised when an action film intrudes into middle-class drama.
In suburban Woodberry, Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart, swallows scenery whole) sulks over the wasted promise of his youth: he was the high school star, the student with the brig-htest prospective future. Twenty years thereon, he is a mere accountant in a firm by the wayside. There is a semblance of sincere regret, as the film installs a clever mechanism to amplify the feeling of his loss: it begins in 1996, with the entire gymnasium chanting his name, and brash-cuts to 2016, where his immediate junior’s been promoted over him.
A class reunion is around the corner but Joyner would rather pass; he is ashamed he couldn’t live up to the expectations. In a bizarre set of events, Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson, not much of an actor, but incredibly self-aware) enters the scene and causes Joyner to be embroiled in a standard-issue intelligence thriller: there is a large-scale conspiracy, encryption codes on the market, agents out to get them, a villain with a sobriquet, a shootout or two and finally, a grand revelation.
The narrative complication weakens the film’s emotional potency, for its investment in the domains of international security, its extremely entangled dynamics and its repercussions on the lives of ordinary people is hardly sincere. As a result, much of it is present merely as a notion; phrases such as “treason”, “free world” and “espionage” are instances of vocabulary as a means to evoke authenticity, but serve examples of how modern culture can quickly render words banal. Later, when a head-spy is asked by Joyner how he can reach her, she replies, “Just pick up any phone in your house. All of them are bugged.”
The film attempts to employ elements of genre — like most other similar films, including director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s superior We’re the Millers (2013) do — as a mere background (a circumstance, an environment) for the actual crisis: individuals helping reach each other emotional maturity, but in this case, they end up serving as an unfortunate distraction. The film’s first sequence, set at the end of school year in 1996, concludes with the naked, obese form of a younger Bob Stone (the film’s greatest special effect) being hurled into the middle of a farewell ceremony by a group of bullies.
While the entire gymnasium participates in his collective embarrassment, it is Joyner who offers him a jacket to cover himself. Joyner glances at him with sympathy, and in return, Stone’s eyes fill with gratitude — this is a genuine emotional moment, free of conventional irony, the sort that can begin friendships that last lifetimes.
When they meet 20 years later, it is clear they are emotional halves who live through each other: Stone finds in Joyner an example of stability, Joyner in him a model of adventure. These initial possibilities are however diluted by the film’s preference for mounting a larger tapestry of experience for its viewers: breadth, rather than width — ending up eventually as an example of how an effective junction of genres can necessitate surgical control.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society...