June 17, 2016

'Central Intelligence' sends strong anti-bullying message

By Carl Kozlowski *

Everyone can remember a mortifying moment from their high school days, or can relate to the feeling of having fallen from the heights of popularity and success in that period. And facing up to 20-year reunions is a daunting experience for anyone.

The new movie “Central Intelligence” finds an incredibly funny, exciting and unique way to show that struggle by teaming up Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart in an action-comedy that still has much to say about bullying and the ability to turn one’s life around.

Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) is a former high school loser who went from being a morbidly obese teen with a horribly funny name to being a muscular CIA agent with a new identity. But when he was a senior in high school, five bullies teamed up on him while he danced and sang while naked in a gym shower, and dragged him into a gym packed with classmates before dumping him to be humiliated in front of everyone. The only student who wouldn’t laugh at him was the school’s star student, Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart), who gave him his letterman’s jacket to cover his implied naked genitals and walk out with some dignity.

Twenty years later, now known as Bob and musclebound, the loser victim finds Calvin while in town for their reunion.  Calvin has gone from star to average-joe accountant, and he now feels disappointed in his life, but Bob finds him on Facebook and asks him to meet night before reunion for drinks to talk. Then, he invites his way into staying overnight in Calvin’s house.

The next morning, Calvin is shocked to find three CIA agents at his door, looking for Bob. Bob disappears instantly though, but quickly returns to drag Calvin into a crazy set of misadventures as they try to figure out who a secret villain named the Black Badger is in time to prevent him from selling a chip with government secrets on it in an online auction to enemy nations.

Bob needs Calvin’s accounting expertise to track down where the bank accounts of the bidders are located and find the winner to arrest him. But the three agents claim that it is Bob who went crazy and turned traitor, and is the one selling the secrets himself. Calvin is asked by them to report if Bob contacts him, but within moments Bob has swooped back to get him, Calvin is convinced Bob is telling the truth and the two go on the run from the feds while hoping to arrest the auction winner and reclaim the files.

Yet all the way to the end, “Central Intelligence” keeps viewers wondering if Bob is a hero or has gone rogue, and if he’s going to wind up killing Calvin or really liking him. It’s an impressive feat for a genre in which writers are often lazy in their plot creation while rushing to have big laughs or explosions happen.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber also does an unbelievably great job mixing action with comedy and then having strong emotional moments in which the characters express their disappointments in life and encourage each other to overcome. Johnson and Hart far exceed their expected acting limitations to truly shine on every level.

The movie has a strong anti-bullying message, but also makes the point that anyone can change their lives for the better and overcome adversity. There is a noticeably lower level, of foul language than many other similar movies, with one F-word and about 20 milder swear words like the S-word scattered throughout with one misuse of Jesus’ name and one G-D. The violence is never disturbing or bloody and mostly played for laughs in funny fights.

That leaves three close shots of male rear nudity, two of the obese teenage version of Bob that are at first meant to be funny then tragic, and at the end of him fully fit and nude from the rear as a way of showing his classmates they didn’t break him, but drove him to improve his life. None of the nudity is meant to be prurient in any way to the viewer.

Overall,”Central Inteligence” is an absolute blast and highly recommended as perfectly executed action comedy that teenagers and adults should both enjoy tremendously. 

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.