Central Intelligence

By Jared Young

Mailed on June 21, 2016

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Dear Amber Wakefield
Casting Associate

Dear Amber,

The title gives it all away, doesn’t it? _Central Intelligence. Generic, lifeless, uninteresting, undescriptive, objectively unmemorable—and has there ever been a movie that so perfectly lives up (or down) to the promise of its own name?

What a strange experience it was to sit through this flick. It’s bad, sure—but bad in a familiar way: broad and obvious and poorly-paced and stuck in that strange place between absurd physics-bending comedy and gritty, jittery action flick. It indulges in artificiality, then strains for sincerity—sometimes in the very same moment. It doesn’t even benefit from being disjointed enough to be enjoyable as a series of sketches; so much time is dedicated to moving the plot forward, one gets the sense the filmmakers actually thought they were telling a story.

Was it just as strange for you to watch, Amber? When you helped cast the film, you must have hoped that the result would be at least the sum of its assembled parts. But it’s not, is it? You have two universally charming stars surrounded by A-list character actors and comedians, and somehow the outcome is an utterly un-charming, C-minus wreck.

Kevin Hart is an accountant; his job consists of making photocopies and staring forlornly into the middle distance. Accounting, photocopiers: this is how we know he is a boring, unambitious guy stuck in a drab white collar world. After he’s finished making his photocopies, he spills his coffee. Clearly his life is going nowhere! The film deals deeply in such broader-than-broad, weirdly antiquated ideas. This kind of character development lacks even the nuance of the Dilbert cartoons the screenwriters clearly used for research. Kevin Hart deserves better. Everyone in this film deserves better. The cast you assembled for this totem of mediocrity belies the very notion of mediocrity (with the exception, maybe, of poor Ryan Hansen, whose Chris Pratt impression falls flat). Like I said, Amber: the math doesn’t make sense; the sum of these performances somehow ends up being less than it should be.

Dwayne Johnson’s charisma is always surprising to me. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Every time I see him onscreen, I feel like I’m realizing for the first time what an engaging performer he is. And it’s not the easy charm of a brawny guy who can speak eloquently and fake fragility. Here he plays an action hero whose macho bravado is all a self-conscious construction: a wimpy kid’s impression of how a tough guy should act. It’s a compelling and unexpected performance. Unfortunately, it sits in the middle of a movie that is the opposite of those things.

Amy Ryan pulls a similar trick. She somehow manages, in her throwaway role as stern CIA agent, to be present, and engaged, and interesting, and all for no apparent reason, since her character serves only to deliver dialogue that reminds the audience of what just happened and what’s about to happen. Aaron Paul even shows up. It’s a role so paper-thin that it might actually be a cameo (that I’ve just spoiled), but he brings enough energy to the performance that he almost seems like an actual character (until, of course, he spits out his famous TV catch-phrase and reminds you that you’re not actually watching a movie with interesting characters doing interesting things, you’re watching actors reference themselves in a movie too unambitious to offer something original enough that it’s worth referencing). There are a couple more great cameos (which I won’t spoil) that only serve to remind viewers how much funnier the whole flick should have been.

I’ll admit, yes, that there are moments of inspiration. They don’t come from the script, or the direction, or the music, or editing, or costumes, or production design—they come despite the lackluster quality of those essential pieces. Whatever value there is to be gleaned from Central Intelligence in the course of its 114-minute running time is improvised by actors you helped to cast. And I suspect the filmmakers knew it: the best part of the movie might be the three minutes of outtakes that accompany the end credits (the tell-tale sign of a terrible comedy). All the fun and nuance and authenticity that the film lacks is suddenly there.

But instead—well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? Watered-down, inarticulate, so conventional that it lowers conventions. And no matter who you might have cast to wallow around in this negative space, I fear that Central Intelligence has achieved its pathetic secret mission: to make a bit of money and be utterly forgettable.



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