Robbie Weirdicht (pronounced “weird dick”) is my new favorite action hero! He’s tough, smooth, all sorts of bad ass, aaaaaand he loves sappy romance movies! My kind of hero! The sensitive kind!
The Rock stars as Robbie Weirdicht, aka Bob Stone, a former fat and bullied kid in high school, who turns his life around and becomes CIA super spy in jorts. He reunites with the only friend he had in high school, Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Kevin Hart), for a 20-year reunion but inadvertently drags Jet into his world of high-risk espionage. But Jet soon realizes that not everything is as it seems, as the line between good guy and bad guy start to get murky. He starts to wonder: is Bob Stone really who he says he is?
The film strikes a good balance of action and humor (albeit with a few, forgivable moments of expositional drag) Its action is what you’d expect from someone like The Rock – aggressing, hard-hitting – but with the humor leaking and lending itself to action beats, it becomes a teensy bit slapstick. Imagine Rush Hour with more muscle. There’s a lessened sense of danger, but watching The Rock kick butt and shoot stuff is still very much enjoyable.
The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson as he’s been calling himself since his Hollywood career started (but he’ll always be the Rock to me), has really come a long way since his early acting days. As a big 90’s wrestling and Rock fan, I used to watch all his new films. The first few ones filled me with gleeful and nerdy excitement at the idea that The Rock was in an actual movie. I thought it was so cool, but really, in hindsight, he wasn’t all that good. He was type-casted as the big, buff, bad ass, he had a way of acting and speaking that was prevalent across all his roles, he had a lot ticks and mannerisms, “Rock-isms” if I may, that were absolutely glaring – I could never see him as anything other than “The Rock”. Having played the character for years, he just couldn’t seem to get away from the persona. The Dwayne Johnson rebrand didn’t help much either.
But I’m happy to say, in Central Intelligence, while I still saw faint traces of “The Rock”, I was mostly seeing Robbie Weirdicht/Bob Stone. I bought it – I bought the character, I bought his history, his motivations, his anxieties, etc. Dwayne Johnson has started elevating his performance since, maybe, 3 or 4 films ago, but it’s never been more evident than here. And Central Intelligence is all the better for it.
It’s a good thing his character gave him the chance to stretch his acting muscles a bit. Bob is a refreshingly nuanced action hero. He’s not your Herculean, chisel-jawed, over confident, Rambo-James Bond hybrid hero-type. There’s a lot more to this guy than brawn that made him very unique; even relatable. One such quality is that he was a former fat kid and with it comes a complex set of deep-seeded insecurities and fears you don’t normally associate with action heroes. His unease when he encounters something that reminded him of his awful high school life was pretty tragic to watch and Johnson played it with conscious subtlety. Sure he’s still a gigantic bad ass when he needs to be, but the character pleasantly disarms when he’s shown to be the same gentle, goofy, unapologetically girly-man-inside soul he was when he was a kid.
There’s a mystery element in the plot that was a nice swerve from the normal buddy cop comedy formula. Having this uncertainty cloud over Bob’s intentions kept the audience on their toes and mindful of the details. But even though the casting ultimately made the end game predictable (don’t ask me how), the whole plotline still made Bob Stone an even more compelling character.
Let’s talk about his partner now though. Kevin Hart is no sidekick; he’s a partner. He brings the chuckles just as much as Johnson brings the pain. His adlibs are to him what punches are to The Rock and no surprise to anyone that Hart’s mouth is just as action-packed!
Hart’s Golden Jet Joyner is the former high school superstar who grows up to become a very ill-equipped to be entangled in all this spy stuff accountant. This is honestly the first time I’ve ever seen Hart play the straight man to anyone so if you want to talk restrained performances, give the award to this man! (Well, straight relative to Johnson’s more unpredictable super spy.) The role of the straight man suppressed Kevin Hart’s typically aggressive, rapid-fire and crass brand of humor (that I usually find forced and hard to swallow.) But Hart’s controlled performance and this simmering hysteria he put into Jet, made me appreciate his comedic knack even more! It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was seriously bawling at a few quips and gags with Johnson.
Who’d have thought these two would make such a powerful comedy duo? Their rapport radiated off the screen! They had such great chemistry and comedic harmony that you’d think they’ve been doing this together for years. Well, hopefully rest of the world feels the same and they do end up doing this for years. (Central Intelligence 2!)
But the fun doesn’t stop with the 2 leads. (Minor spoilers. Skip to the next paragraph to avoid!) The movie’s trailers did a great job hiding the rest of the film’s entire cast (finally someone did trailers right!) The focus was very much on the two, making some of the other roles practically cameos. But they weren’t there just for fan service’ sake; these were surprising and enjoyable cameos, no doubt, but they also relevantly served the main story.
Central Intelligence made the most out of its two lead actors’ individual appeal as well as their considerable on-screen chemistry. Along with the perfect mix of action-packed brawls and shoot-outs, cloak and daggers and double crosses, goofy, frantic, and at times cleverly meta humor, these two loveable characters made a very strong mark on the genre. I do hope they turn this into a franchise. Who knows, maybe Bob Stone and Golden Jet could be the next Riggs and Murtaugh!