Central Intelligence is “bad not awful” as opposed to “good not great”. To put it into perspective, it’s not Jack and Jill but it isn’t exactly Hot Fuzz either. Don’t get me wrong, the writing isn’t up to scratch and the direction is poor but it’s leads, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, are funny enough that they stop it becoming unbearable. Nonetheless, Central Intelligence‘s is another example of bad comedy that we must examine. We have to learn its weaknesses.It’s our only chance.
The story is that Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was basically the king of his high school and was nicknamed “The Golden Jet”. Yes that’s a piss joke but we have bigger fish to fry here. 20 years pass and he is upset at how his life turned out only having a well-paying job, a beautiful wife and a stunning house. Tragedy! One day he gets a message from Bob Stone, a former classmate of his who’s become a part of the CIA. He’s trying to stop an act of treason and needs Calvin to help him. That’s a premise I can get behind. Straight man being brought into a crazy world by a wacky character is a tried and tested idea. It’s too bad they don’t do enough with it.
A premise like that lends itself to situational comedy and to be fair, there are one or two scenes that remember this, including the office escape scene. But the majority of the jokes are either pop culture references or the always classic “Black people don’t do that” lines. Sometimes both. This was the killer for me (I am paraphrasing this):
Bob: Do you remember that scene in Sixteen Candles?
Calvin: Black people don’t watch Sixteen Candles.
Okay, a lot to unpack there. First off, I have never seen Sixteen Candles so I have no idea what the reference means or what the context is. By the sound of it neither did the audience I saw it with. So what has happened here is a joke that needs you to do further reading to understand that automatically alienates anyone who hasn’t done it. Good start. Second of all, are we really still doing the “black people don’t do that” joke? I’m not offended by it, and if anyone is I’ll defend the film to the death, it’s just an old joke. They didn’t give it any clever twist or dressing up it’s just “I’m black and therefore I haven’t seen Sixteen Candles“. That’s just lazy. Third and final point, it’s a nothing joke. A good film joke conveys character or comments on the situation (ideally both). Example of this would be in Shaun of the Dead with the fence gag. Shaun acts cool in a bad situation and falls flat on his face. That reveals that he’s not as capable as he thinks he is and doesn’t bode well for the group. The majority of the jokes in Central Intelligence are nothing jokes.
“Majority” would imply that there is a minority that aren’t. Theses include the all to rare situational jokes and some of the scene premises. However there is an issue of lost potential and it is entirely the fault of the director, Rawson Marshall Thurber. Best example of this is the scene at the airfield. Bob needs to rob a plane and Calvin has to distract the official. Good premise with lots of comedic potential edited to oblivion. To the point where in the latter half when Bob is joking around while Calvin is still trying to distract him and there is no interaction between the two parts of that scene. there is no comedy without suffering and since Calvin doesn’t seem to notice Bob’s antics no one suffers, rendering the scene absolutely pointless. Then there’s a snake in a box owned by the official. His name is Snake Gyllenhall. End scene. WHAT? Like, what do you say to that? Is that a joke? I have to move on before my brain melts.
Now the last thing I’m going to talk about is an issue that seems to keep cropping up nowadays and I don’t know why. In a lot of modern comedy films, they stop being comedies in the climax. The end of Central Intelligence is a straight up action scene. Not a good one or anything close to it but still, it is 15 minutes of film with nothing resembling comedy. Why? You are a comedy. You’re function is to make me laugh. At least try to do action comedy. For a textbook example of how you do this, we once again turn to the work of Edgar Wright. Hot Fuzz’s climax is beautiful to behold, making jokes out of action clichés.
All of this makes Central Intelligence sound unbearable and that is a testament to the comedic acting of the leads. Johnson is hugely expressive, with solid delivery and timing and Hart works well as the straight man because he pulls off panic well. Basically, these guys are capable of more if they were given good direction and a decent script.
In conclusion, Central Intelligence is full of nothing jokes, pop culture references and black jokes that is saved from the pits of hell by solid comedic performances.
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