Movie Monday: Central Intelligence

Nobody will confuse this movie with “Citizen Kane,” but it’s good-natured and just what audiences have come to expect. It cost $50 million to make and sold more than $40 million in tickets over the weekend, which was pretty good for a weekend in which the latest Pixar movie sucked all the air out of the cinematic room.

From a couple of reviews:

It doesn’t take a genius IQ to see what the brains behind the buddy comedy “Central Intelligence” were thinking. It’s all about the odd couple.

Just mix Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who’s big as a mountain and goofily charismatic, with Kevin Hart, who’s pint-sized, overanimated and squealy. And let the espionage plot take care of itself.

Except that the story doesn’t. It’s sloppy and half-baked.

Even romps must make sense, and this Swiss-cheesy script has holes and slow stretches. Yes, the appealing mismatched megastars earn their paychecks with game performances. But other than an occasional zinger hitting the mark, laughs are in short supply.

 Joe Dziemianowicz
New York Daily News

The real danger with these types of buddy comedies is the over-reliance on predictable gags and comic tics. Audiences want to see Kevin Hart being Kevin Hart, and they want to see the Rock being the Rock, but they don’t want to be too disturbed or challenged. So within that framework, a smart director has to figure out how to play with the elements, to bring spontaneity and surprise without completely upending expectations. Central Intelligence won’t blow you out of the theater, but you might be surprised at how well it works — how genuinely funny it is — given the familiarity of this concept.

Bilge Ebiri
LA Weekly

To me, these critiques ring a little hollow. They get raised almost every time one of these pictures is released. People who review movies for a living may get tired of buddy action comedies, but so far audiences have not.

Same Old, Same Old

The buddy comedy has been with us forever. Laurel and Hardy. Hope and Crosby. Butch and Sundance.

For the last 30 years or more, the preferred iteration has been the-odd-couple-fights-the-bad-guys, described now as an “action comedy.” Films with this theme are released very, very regularly.

Last month, it was “The Nice Guys.” Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a down-on-his-luck private eye teams with Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a hired enforcer who hurts people for a living. Fate turns them into unlikely partners after a young woman mysteriously disappears. Their investigation takes them to dark places as anyone else who gets involved in the case seems to wind up dead.

In April came “The Do-Over.” Here’s the plot line: Charlie McMillan (David Spade), an unhappily married bank manager reunites with his old high school buddy/FBI agent Max Kessler (Adam Sandler, of course). They spend a weekend on Max’s yacht, which makes Charlie feel young again, and the duo decide to fake their owns deaths and assume the identities of two other men, who turn out to have sketchy pasts that land Charlie and Max in some deep doo-doo.

In March, it was “The Brothers Grimsby,” in which a dimwitted English vulgarian reunites with his long-lost brother, a deadly MI6 agent, to prevent a massive global terror attack.

These movies follow a formula. At least one buddy is a gun-toting spy, detective or FBI agent. The two buddies have little in common and snipe at each other in hilarious fashion but ultimately come together to resolve a problem that virtually always involves gunplay. The shooting simplifies and amplifies the action, but never injures or kills either buddy because the movie is a comedy.

Context

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course. People go to movies to be entertained, and the buddy action comedy is a durable concept that allows talented actors to camp it up and make people laugh.

People don’t want to go to the cineplex and be surprised to find themselves watching dramatizations of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage.” (I don’t even want to go to a dramatization of “Mother Courage.” Once is enough, or very possibly, too much.)

There is comfort in understanding what to expect. By this measure, “Central Intelligence” delivers.

One thought on “Movie Monday: Central Intelligence

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