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Kevin Hart, left, and Dawyne ‘The Rock’ Johnson star in Central Intelligence, which follows the exploits of an inept super spy.

Claire Folger

2 out of 4 stars

Title
Central Intelligence
Written by
Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Directed by
Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart
Genre
Comedy
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2016

In 1997, back when The Toronto Sun was running a male counterpart to its infamous Sunshine Girl spread, a hulking slab of testosterone named Rocky graced the pages of the tabloid. Clad in a snug black turtleneck and coyly clutching a leather fanny pack, Rocky told the newspaper that he loved to relax on the beach, his favourite musical was The Phantom of the Opera and he would someday "like to be one of the leading stars of the [World Wrestling Federation]."

Much has changed for Rocky in the ensuing two decades – wrestling dominance, Hollywood superstardom, serious Instagram game – but the man now known as Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is still sporting the fanny pack, at least in his new comedy, Central Intelligence. The style relic – if it was even considered in style during the late nineties – is a small detail in the film, but an important one.

As the only consistent element to Johnson's cinematic wardrobe, the accessory underlines the actor's eagerness to embrace the self-deprecating goofiness of Central Intelligence, which finds him playing a rogue CIA agent who's more than a bit insane. The fanny pack, and Johnson's ultra-confident rocking of it, represent everything you need to know about both the film and The Rock himself: silly, lighthearted and impossible to not inspire at least half a smile.

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Most films would be so lucky to have secured Johnson and the irrepressible cheeriness he brings to the screen, and indeed, Central Intelligence gets passing marks simply for having the prescience to cast the man. The film might have even been better off had it focused solely on Johnson and his exploits as an aesthetically inept super-spy.

Instead, director Rawson Marshall Thurber pairs his imitable leading man with the ever-frantic Kevin Hart, creating a buddy comedy that's pleasant enough without ever reaching the full comic heights that Johnson's casting implicitly promises.

The plot is preschool-simple: On the run from the agency because of a McGuffin-sized plot device, Johnson's secret agent recruits an old high school friend (Hart) to help him decode some forensic accounting gobbledygook before the world explodes, or something along those lines. It's all just an excuse to have Johnson (so big, so imposing) and Hart (so small, so nebbishy) engage in odd-couple banter and fits of shrieking among whizzing bullets and Langley tough guys.

For the most part, it works. Hart and Johnson bounce off each other – both verbally and physically – with ease, their chemistry pushing the rest of the film through its PG-rated paces. (There are hints of a more risqué, surreal script by writing partners Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, though most edges seem to be sanded off by Thurber.)

Yet, by the time the film reaches its obvious conclusion – by the time Hart expends more energy than Bugs Bunny, by the time the espionage plot twists itself into corners too convoluted for even Homeland fans, by the time Thurber exhausts the audience by unleashing cameo after cameo – it's only Johnson who remains standing tall. With a simple wink and a pec flex, the erstwhile Rocky proves that he has more charisma than any other action star working today. Fanny pack and all.

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